The prospect of leaving a sporting event with a free T-shirt can be plenty invigorating for paying customers. But it’s also easy to forget that the tightly compacted garments are sometimes fired from devices designed to send shirts deep into the stands.
A Texas woman claims she painfully discovered that during a Houston Astros game on July 8, alleging in a $1 million lawsuit against the ballclub that a shirt, fired at a close range by a mascot named Orbit who was using a “bazooka style” cannon, struck her hand and “shattered” her left index finger, resulting in an injury that has required two surgeries.
“At first I was like, ‘Oh gosh! Like, that really hurt. But it was a T-shirt, surely it didn’t do anything. I’m sure it’s jammed,’ ” Jennifer Harughty tearfully told Houston’s KTRK. “As the rest of the game went on, I told my husband, I was like, ‘I think something’s really wrong with it.’ “
Harughty’s lawsuit alleges that she was seated halfway up the first deck behind third base, according to the Houston Chronicle, when the T-shirt struck her finger head on. Screws were placed in the finger, but, according to the lawsuit, she has “continued to suffer pain, swelling and loss of range of motion.” Her finger, despite a second surgery, “remains locked in an extended position with little to no range of motion,” she says.
“It was a life-changing event that I think if it happened to anybody else . . . they would feel the same way,” Harughty told KRTK. “It has nothing to do with the Astros.”
The lawsuit claims the Astros were negligent in failing to use reasonable care in firing the T-shirt cannon, failing to provide warnings and reminders to fans about the risk the cannons pose and failing to properly supervise staff to ensure audience safety, among other claims.
“The Astros are aware of the lawsuit with allegations regarding Orbit’s T-shirt launcher,” the team said in a statement. “We do not agree with the allegations. The Astros will continue to use . . . popular T-shirt launchers during games. As this is an ongoing legal matter, we will have no further comment on this matter.”
Traditionally, courts have sided with teams under “the baseball rule,” a legal standard that protects teams by holding fans responsible for paying attention to what is going on around them on a field, court or ice. Juries in two trials determined in 2015 that neither the Kansas City Royals nor a man who was struck in the eye with a foil-wrapped hot dog at a 2009 game were at fault. John Coomer said he had suffered a detached retina and permanent eye damage when struck by a hot dog thrown by the Royals mascot, Sluggerrr. Other jurisdictions have since cited the rule in siding with teams.
Harughty says her family has incurred more than $15,000 in medical bills and she is seeking compensation for pain, medical expenses, mental anguish, lost opportunity, lost enjoyment of life and lost earnings.
“I have a quiet life. It was an unfortunate accident, and we were just asking for some compensation for medical bills,” she said. “I’ve never sued anybody in my life.”