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Danger at the Ballfield – Fan’s Fatal Fall Leads to Lawsuit

November 15, 2018

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On August 29, 2015, the Yankees were up 2-0 against the Braves when Alex Rodriguez was called to pinch hit.  Greg “Ace” Murrey, a 60-year old insurance agent, stood up with many fans to heckle the Bronx Bomber when he lost balance and toppled over the 30” railing to the lower deck.  He was transported to Grady Memorial Hospital and pronounced dead on arrival. Murrey’s fatal fall, the third to befell Turner Field since 2008 (although the 2013 incident was ruled a suicide) has spurred a lawsuit calling into question the appropriate height of guardrails.

According to the 1927 building code, railing heights were required to be a minimum of 26”.  Safety experts now argue that fans are bigger and more overzealous than they were 90 years ago, as such, these outdated safety recommendations need to reflect the changing landscape.  The Braves’ new stadium has 36” railings, but these plans were already in effect prior to Murrey’s fall.  A person’s center of gravity is typically about 39” high and OSHA research dating back to 1976 determined that a 42” railing would be above the center of gravity for 95% of adults.  The problem is compromising railing height with line of sight as fans won’t want to sit in the front row if the guardrail obstructs their view of the game.

Hall of Fame pitcher and president of the Texas Rangers, Nolan Ryan, appeared for a deposition in the Murrey lawsuit, based on remedial actions taken by the Texas Rangers for a similar problem.  Texas spent $1.1M in 2011 to raise their guardrails to 42” after a fan fatality.    In 2010, after the Texas fatality, Turner Field security sent an e-mail to the Braves’ VP of stadium operations who replied, “I hope our specs are not similar to theirs.”  The Texas guardrails were actually half an inch higher than the Braves’.

It is important to remember that the medical examiner found Murrey hyperventilated when he stood, causing his loss of balance.  Additionally, his blood alcohol level was a .104.  But his death comes in a wake of fan related injuries spurring a movement to increase fan safety.  In 2010 at Turner Field, a 6-year old girl sitting behind the Braves dugout was hit in the head by a foul ball, fracturing her skull in 30 places and causing traumatic brain injury.  That case was settled for an undisclosed amount, but baseball Commissioner, Rob Manfred, recommended all teams extend the netting behind home plate to either the near ends of the dugouts, or to any seat within 70’ of the batter’s box which is what all ballparks in Japan do.  The Murrey lawsuit seeks substantive change in railing heights, but also an undisclosed monetary amount for the value of his life.  It is unclear the path this lawsuit will take, but the Braves lost that game, 3-1.

And if I might editorialize for a moment, having been to hundreds of baseball games over the years, I'm always struck by the T-shirt cannon, which sends rolled-up T-shirts into the stands, some of which fall just short of the upper deck railings.  It's incredibly lucky that no fan has fallen while reaching too far for a T-shirt.

A link to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is here:  https://www.ajc.com/news/local/family-says-braves-mlb-knew-guardrails-unsafe-before-fan-fatal-fall/QTzudvDnyLRQePAxra5uCN/amp.html

Thanks to Mehreen Hayat for her contribution to this post.  Please email <a href="mailto:BGibbons@wcmlaw.com">Brian Gibbons</a> with any questions.

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