Judge tosses Mets fan's lawsuit

NEW YORK -- A New York Mets fan's lawsuit over a broken bat that flew into his face was thrown out Wednesday, with a judge rejecting his argument that the team and Major League Baseball should have done more to safeguard spectators from break-prone maple bats.

James G. Falzon's lawsuit follows years of discussion of the safety of increasingly popular maple bats, which have been shown to break apart more readily than traditional ash bats.

Falzon was in a box seat along the third-base line, watching a fly ball soar, when the barrel of a broken maple bat smashed into him during an August 2007 game against the Atlanta Braves at Shea Stadium, according to his suit. It also named Mets second baseman Luis Castillo, who was wielding the bat, and then-Mets catcher Ramon Castro, who owned it, according to the suit. Falzon also sued the bat's manufacturer in a separate, ongoing case.

He suffered multiple facial fractures, including a broken palate, as his 11-year-old son looked on, the lawsuits said. He still has headaches now, according to lawyer William Maniatis.

Falzon's lawsuits argue that the league and the Mets failed to keep spectators "reasonably safe from hazards they had actual knowledge of, including the increased danger posed by shattering maple bats," his lawsuits said, pointing to MLB-commissioned studies of maple bats that went back to 2005. The league set new bat production standards after the 2008 season and says the breakage rate has since dropped by nearly half.

The suits also said the players weren't careful enough in inspecting and maintaining the bat.

The team and league said fans are warned about the possibility of bats fragments going into the stands; MLB says on tickets that fans assume risk for accidents incidental to the game, such as getting hit by foul balls and broken bats. Under New York law, baseball stadiums have to have protective netting for the seats behind home plate, but Falzon wasn't sitting there, the team and league lawyer Carla Varriale noted in court papers.

"[Falzon and his family] admit that they voluntarily sat in an unprotected area of Shea Stadium in field box seats that were located in close proximity to the playing field, with the knowledge that they could be injured," Varriale wrote. Falzon has said he would have gotten seats behind the netting if they could have; the team said they could have asked to be moved but didn't.

Falzon's lawyer said he planned to appeal. Varriale and a Mets spokesman declined to comment; MLB representatives had no immediate comment.

Falzon's other lawsuit accuses Rawlings-brand bat maker the Jarden Corp. of producing an "inherently dangerous" bat. A lawyer for Rye, N.Y.-based Jarden declined to comment.

Baseball bats have traditionally been made from ash trees, but maple bats have gained ground in recent years, particularly after Barry Bonds used them to break Mark McGwire's single-season home run record in 2001 and Hank Aaron's career home run record in 2007.

But as maple bats have proliferated, so have concerns about their safety. An MLB committee found in 2008 that maple bats were three times as likely to break in multiple places as ash bats.

The ruptures sometimes send pieces hurtling into fans, umpires and players. Boston Red Sox shortstop Nick Green had to deflect a maple bat barrel with his forearm while the ball rolled between his legs during a game against the Washington Nationals in 2009.

This past September, a shard from a broken maple bat punctured Chicago Cubs right fielder Tyler Colvin's chest as he stood on third base during a game against the Florida Marlins. Colvin spent three days in a Miami hospital.

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said the injury renewed concern about maple bats, but he noted the reduction in broken bats since the 2008 season.

"Is it enough? No. We've got the remaining 50 percent to do, and you watch something like the Tyler Colvin incident, and it scares you. But we're making progress," Selig said in September.

Bat manufacturers are now required to track the breakage rates of different models and outfit bats with dots that show how straight the wood's grain is. The straighter the grain, the more durable the bat.