By William J. Robers, of Sparks Willson, P.C.
Former Baltimore Orioles draftee and Delmarva Shorebirds shortstop Jared Breen has sued the owner of the Shorebirds, 7th Inning Stretch, LP (“7th Inning Stretch”) and Wicomico County, Maryland (owner of the Arthur W. Perdue Stadium, home of the Shorebirds) (the “County”), in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland for injuries he suffered in a 2015 game.
According to the complaint, during the first inning of a game on July 3, 2015, Breen was tracking a fly ball toward left field when he crashed into a concrete wall, which separated the spectators from the field. It is undisputed that the wall did not have any protective padding. As a result of the collision with the wall, Breen claims that he suffered a fractured right patella, a broken orbital, a concussion, a fractured nose, a punctured sinus, and trauma to his back.
Breen was released by the Orioles on November 19, 2015. He continued to recover from his injuries at his home in Atlanta. His dream of playing in the major leagues is over. He alleges that he has still not recovered entirely from the injuries and the collision has left him permanently, partially disabled.
The lawsuit claims that the “height, material, location, construction, design, and maintenance of the wall created a defective and dangerous condition for baseball players . . . .” Breen asserts that the County owed him a non-delegable duty of care to provide and maintain safe premises. He alleges that the County breached its duty by not remedying or warning him of the dangerous condition.
In his claims against 7th Inning Stretch, Breen claims that the company owed him a duty of care to exercise reasonable care in maintaining the stadium in a safe condition. He alleges that 7th Inning Stretch breached such duty by failing to maintain the wall in a safe condition or adequately warn of the dangerous condition.
7th Inning Stretch has answered the suit by admitting that the concrete wall was not padded at the time of the incident (although both sides now admit that padding has been added to the wall after the incident, as a remedial measure). 7th Inning Stretch has also asserted various affirmative defenses, including without limitation, contributory negligence, assumption of risk, laches and waiver. 7th Inning Stretch claims that Breen “was at all times aware of the location of the wall in the stadium and the condition of the wall.”
The County filed a motion to dismiss, which was granted in part on August 6, 2019. The County argued that, under the Maryland Local Government Torts Claims Act (the “LGTCA”), Breen was required to notify the County within 180 days after the injury. Breen claims to have sent notice of his claim to the County via certified mail on February 24, 2016 (admittedly 54 days after the LGTCA deadline). But an affidavit from the risk manager for the County states that the County never received notice of a claim. Maryland District Court Judge Deborah K. Chasanow ruled that Breen failed to comply with the LGTCA notice requirement, thus granting the County’s motion to dismiss. Judge Chasanow ordered an evidentiary hearing, however, to determine whether Breen demonstrated good cause for waiving the notice requirement, and whether the case against the County may continue.
The result in this case may provide further jurisprudence for premises liability litigation and the role of waivers and the assumption of risk with respect to participant injuries.