Whistleblower: Twins fan takes one on the chin

  • Updated: December 6, 2012 - 3:38 PM

A foul ball hit by a Yankees player at Target Field broke her jaw in two places. She's missed work, is out $1,500, and likely out of legal options.

Becky Ludvigson and her boyfriend Chad Larson killed time in the emergency room at Hennepin County Medical Center after Ludvigson was hit by a baseball at a Twins game in September. Ludvigson had not yet received her diagnosis of a fractured jaw.

Photo: , Photo: Becky Ludvigson

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The Twins' home game against the New York Yankees Sept. 24 was occupied with concern over a bruised bone in Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter's right foot.

But the evening game didn't pause to consider what happened after a Yankees batter hit a line drive foul into the stands in the top of the seventh inning. The ball crashed into spectator Becky Ludvigson's face, breaking her jaw in two places. Ludvigson missed the rest of the game after being taken to the hospital. She also missed work, had to pay $1,500 out of pocket for medical bills and her jaw may never feel the same.

A lifelong fan who lives in Eden Prairie, Ludvigson asked the Twins for some compensation for her suffering. But she learned that she would get no help after the team's insurance company rejected her claim. Fans at Target Field officially accept the risk of getting beaned when they buy a ticket.

Because fans have an option of sitting behind netting, legal experts say, those in unprotected seats can't turn to the team if they get hit by a ball.

"If a child loses an ice cream cone, [stadium staff may] get them a new cone. Or if we hear of a hardship situation, maybe they'll go get a piece of autographed memorabilia and give it to the person," said Twins spokesman Kevin Smith. "But getting hit by a ball, that's a different thing which we really need to handle through our insurance company based on liabilities."

Ludvigson understands that perspective, but still thinks it's a shabby way to treat a fan.

"[The Twins] have not been in contact with me after denying my claim; not even to make sure the surgery went well, that I was OK, not one word," Ludvigson said. "I'm really very disappointed in the Twins organization."

At first Ludvigson, who was sitting several rows behind the Twins dugout, literally didn't know what hit her. "I was kind of dazed. ... Then I realized I was bleeding," she said.

A visit to emergency room

After a stadium employee came over to see whether everybody was OK, Ludvigson and her boyfriend, Chad Larson, made their way to one of two medical stations. Volunteers there suggested she go to an emergency room. She declined the offer of an expensive ambulance ride and Larson drove her to Hennepin County Medical Center.

"I ended up having to have surgery," Ludvigson said. Her jaw was completely wired shut for two weeks and wired partly shut for another six. "I will always have a permanent plate [in my jaw]. Nerve damage that may or may not ever heal. My bite is off," she said.

Though Ludvigson has medical coverage with a $1,500 out-of-pocket maximum, she contacted the Twins to ask for help with non-covered costs.

"I have endured significant pain. ... I am very concerned about my rapidly mounting medical bills. ... I have also had to miss a great deal of work. ... I don't have paid time off," Ludvigson wrote in a letter to the Twins' human resources vice president, Raenell Dorn.

After expressing sympathy, Dorn contacted the team's insurer, who promptly denied the claim. "When objects come from the playing field into the stands the team and stadium are not responsible for the injuries that may occur. This is an unfortunate part of attending a game," American Specialty Insurance and Risk Services Inc. wrote to Ludvigson.

Michael K. Steenson, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law, said a lawsuit seeking compensation would likely be futile.

"Anyone who goes to a Twins game ... knows about the risk of getting hit by a foul ball," Steenson said. He said that if a fan knows of the risk, understands the risk and then voluntarily encounters that risk, the fan doesn't stand much of a chance in Minnesota courtrooms.

The 'baseball rule'

For decades, spectators have sued teams and stadium owners after getting hit by baseballs. About half of the states recognize a principle called the "baseball rule": If a ball club provides some protected seats, it typically can't be held liable for injuries to any seated fans.

Minnesota's "primary assumption of the risk" doctrine goes further: Even people injured by a ball while buying hot dogs or walking to the bathroom generally can't win a liability case. Minnesota courts dismissed a 2003 lawsuit from a fan injured while walking in a common area at a St. Paul Saints game.

Event operators do have some duty to provide a level of protection to fans, but by having some seats located behind a safety net the team has fulfilled its duty, Steenson said. Fans can choose to sit in the safer seats or stay away from the game altogether, he said.

Target Field has 39,504 seats, but the vast majority are not protected by netting.

The protected seats include about 400 "Champions Club" seats, all of which are issued to season-ticket holders, according to Smith. "Those seats are the most expensive seats in the ballpark" at a face value of $185 to $295, he said.

Netting may protect portions of an additional seven sections directly behind the Champions Club seating, Smith estimated.

Ludvigson said tickets for protected seats are too hard to snag and are too expensive because they are often resold above face value.

In addition, modern stadiums may actually increase the risk of injury. Target Field is "built on purpose for people to be close to the action," Smith said.

Ludvigson has been going to baseball games for as long as she can remember, but no more. She has donated all her Twins apparel to Goodwill.

Ludvigson is unsure if she will fulfill her lifelong dream of seeing a baseball game in every professional stadium in the United States, she said, but if she does she will only view the action through the veil of a safety net.

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