Judges hear woman’s plea to reinstate lawsuit over foul ball

By Peter H. Milliken

Struthers students heard arguments from lawyers for the plaintiff and the Scrappers.

STRUTHERS — A woman who said she was hit by a foul ball at Eastwood Field is crying foul over a judge’s decision to dismiss her lawsuit, which alleged the Mahoning Valley Scrappers neglected their duty to protect her.

Jane Warga, who said she was hit on the head by the errant ball at a Scrappers home game July 20, 2004, wants an appeals court to reverse the judge’s decision and let her $75,000 lawsuit go to a jury trial.

But lawyers for the Scrappers said the dismissal should stand because she was properly warned of the risks she assumed as a baseball game spectator and has no valid claim for damages.

Last year, Judge Timothy E. Franken of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court dismissed Warga’s lawsuit against the minor league baseball team without a trial, saying the “plaintiff assumed the risks inherent in attending a baseball game.”

Warga appealed that dismissal to the 7th District Court of Appeals, which heard oral arguments from lawyers for both sides in a Tuesday session at Struthers High School, which was attended by 55 students.

Arguing Warga’s case before the three-judge appellate panel was her lawyer, Patricia A. Morris of Canfield, who had filed the lawsuit on her behalf.

Arguing in defense of the Scrappers was Atty. Jeffrey R. Lang of Cleveland.

Morris argued that Warga’s assumption of risk as a spectator did not apply because she was away from her seat en route to a concession stand when the ball hit her at the Niles ballpark.

When Warga was seated facing the field, she could follow the ball, but the foul ball hit her while her back was turned to the field, Morris told the appellate panel.

“This woman did not have eyes in the back of her head, or on the sides of her head or on top of her head,” Morris said of her client.

“She obviously was faced with warning signs previous to the incident,” Judge Gene Donofrio said, referring to the signs warning of foul balls that were visible to Warga while she had previously been seated.

The Scrappers management knew foul balls could go into the area where Warga was hit, which was 60 to 70 feet from the nearest seat, but the average spectator would not have had such knowledge, Morris said. “There should have been some measure of protection,” in that area, Morris added.

In her lawsuit, Warga, of South Meridian Road, said she suffered a head injury and blurred vision and incurred medical expenses, including physical therapy bills, and still suffers pain from her injuries.

Lang said Eastwood Field has at least 13 signs warning spectators to be aware of objects leaving the playing field; such warnings are printed on all ticket stubs; and the warning is given over a loudspeaker before each game.

When Warga left her seat, “she was fully aware that the game was being played,” and she could have gone to get a hotdog between innings, Lang said. “She knew that she had to pay attention,” he said. “Her grandsons were there with mitts, obviously excited to catch foul balls, so she knew exactly what was going on,” he added.

“The Mahoning Valley Scrappers were in full compliance” with major and minor league rules concerning protective netting, Lang said.

The appeals panel, consisting of Judges Donofrio, Cheryl L. Waite and Mary DeGenaro, will rule at a later date whether Warga’s lawsuit can go to trial.

The students who attended the appellate court session are sophomores, juniors and seniors in a law studies class.

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