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Protective Netting at Baseball Parks Was One of Bryant Gumbel’s Biggest Accomplishments – How Did Leav & Steinberg Play a Part in This Result? Sometimes, You Lose the Battle But Win the War. 

HBO just aired the last episode of its “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” — marking an end to the show’s 29 years of in-depth sports journalism. Bryant left a lasting impact on many of his fans, creating changes that permeated sports culture and allowed fans to better enjoy the games they loved. 

A few days ago, on December 17th, 2023, CBS released one last interview (1) with the “Real Sports” host, where he reflected on the show’s history and shared some of his biggest victories throughout his career. 

At 5:40 in this interview led by his one-time co-host Jane Pauley, Gumbel shares that he has done “a lot of good” with his wildly successful show that brought viewers a new perspective on sports. When asked what good he’s done with his show, Mr. Gumbel immediately mentions his role in “netting at baseball games” before the interview cuts to a clip of a man named Andy Zlotnik. 

Mr. Zlotnick was the victim of a high-profile accident after a foul ball by Hideki Matsui hit him in the face at a Yankees game in 2011. Mr. Zlotnick’s accident would go on to be the subject of major media coverage, and he retained the personal injury attorneys at Leav & Steinberg to represent him in his matters with the court. While this accident caused injury and emotional and financial damage to Mr. Zlotnick, his case exposed a major safety hazard and caused changes that would make baseball games safer for the thousands of fans who enjoy them. 

How Leav & Steinberg, Bryant Gumbel, and Andy Zlotnick Made Baseball Safer

On August 25th, 2011, Andy Zlotnick had taken his 13-year-old son and two of his son’s friends to a Yankees game. They were playing the Oakland A’s, and Andy had gotten great seats in the third row, 50 feet past first base. 

It was raining heavily on this day as Hurricane Irene made its way up the East Coast. There had been a 90-minute rain delay, but the game started, and there was no question whether Mr. Zlotnick or any of those with him would stick it out. 

By the top of the third inning, Hideki Matsui stepped into the batter’s box. Rain was coming down hard on the stadium, and he wiped off his helmet before getting into his batting stance. Zlotnick, surrounded by fans with open umbrellas, couldn’t see Matsui or Phil Hughes, the Yankees’ pitcher. When Matsui pulled a foul ball into the bleachers behind first base, Mr. Zlotnick didn’t stand a chance. He heard the bat make contact, someone briefly yell, “Watch out,” and immediately was on the ground howling in pain. 

After the incident, Zlotnick began researching umbrella policies in major league baseball stadiums. He realized that while eight teams forbade using umbrellas during rain delays — many other teams had policies like the Yankees’, which was simply that umbrellas were permitted “so long as they do not interfere with other guests’ enjoyment of the game or event.”

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He realized that there were records of numerous injuries sustained by fans, just like his own. 

After meeting with the Yankees’ president at that time, Randy Levine, who at first offered to reimburse Zlotnick for his medical bills, then rescinded the offer. Zlotnick wanted to make a change. 

He wanted no one to suffer like he had and to make baseball safer for the fans who enjoy it so much. 

The Personal Injury Case

By the end of 2012, feeling he’d been left with no choice — Zlotnick filed a personal injury suit against the Yankees and the MLB. 

The Fine Print: “The bearer of the ticket assumes all risk and danger incidental to the sport of baseball.” This was printed on the back of every Yankee ticket and protected the Yankees from claims like the one brought by Zlotnick. 

Zlotnick retained the attorneys at Leav & Steinberg, who chose to represent Zlotnick in his goal to change the policy at Yankees games despite the assumption of risk. 

In the New York Times article (2), “Danger at the Ballpark, and in a Baseball Ticket’s Fine Print,” Partner Edward Steinberg mentions that New York Courts had been “tough” in enforcing what’s known as the “assumption of risk” doctrine (A.K.A. The Baseball Rule). Steinberg mentioned that his firm routinely turns away similar cases since they have so little chance of succeeding, but this was different. 

“In allowing open umbrellas during the game,” Steinberg argued, “The Yankees negligently increased the danger posed by the game of baseball.” 

In July 2013, a New York State Supreme Court judge set a deposition schedule, allowing each side to question witnesses under oath. However, before Steinberg could depose any witnesses, the Yankees’ lawyers filed for summary judgment and ultimately prevented any justice for Mr. Zlotnick from happening. An appeal to the higher courts of New York resulted in an affirmation of the dismissal, with the Court essentially hamstrung by “The Baseball Rule” and the idea that one always assumes the risk when they attend such an event and sit in the seats where balls can fly.  

Zlotnick and our New York personal injury attorneys continued with their goal of changing the precedence for safety measures at Yankees games. It took years for any journalist to cover this story. Still, eventually, Mr. Zlotnick’s story was picked up by a host of news outlets and, finally, the producer of “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.”   

Further evidence was revealed that in Japan, for example, all ticketholders in the same seats are given helmets and gloves upon entering the stadium, as the risk has become more dangerous with:

  1. The speed of the balls
  2. The design of stadiums brings seats closer to the field
  3. Technology directing the audience to the big screens and other areas, causing them to not look right at home plate — much less track a ball each time it is hit

 The Outcome

From August 25, 2011, the day of Mr. Zlotnick’s injuries, on, he set out to change the policies in baseball so that no one would have to suffer as he did. Ultimately, years later, all major league baseball stadiums have additional protective netting, and many more have changed their umbrella policies so that something like this can’t happen. 

In fact, after the 2011 season, the Yankees changed their umbrella policy to no longer permit oversized umbrellas. You will find on the MLB website (3) that the Yankees state that “Large and/or golf umbrellas are not permitted in the stadium.” 

Thanks to the work of Leav & Steinberg, Andy Zlotnick, and journalists like Bryant Gumbel, millions of fans who love the game of baseball have been and continue to be protected by their fight to make stadiums safer. 

To learn more about our personal injury record of success, contact us today.