Federal judge: Ex-Yankees OF can press lawsuit in Cook County court vs White Sox over knee injury

By John Breslin | Jul 10, 2018

A former outfielder for the New York Yankees, whose career was threatened by a season-ending knee injury after one inning at Chicago's Guaranteed Rate Field, can continue his negligence action against the Chicago White Sox in Cook County court after a Chicago federal judge ruled federal court was not the correct venue to hear the case.

Guaranteed Rate Field   By SecretName101 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

CHICAGO - A former outfielder for the New York Yankees, whose career was threatened by a season-ending knee injury after one inning at Chicago's Guaranteed Rate Field, can continue his negligence action against the Chicago White Sox in Cook County court after a Chicago federal judge ruled federal court was not the correct venue to hear the case.

Dustin Fowler, who now plays for the Oakland Athletics, ruptured a tendon in his knee after crashing into a metal electric box during a game on June 29, 2017. Fowler needed surgery following the injury and missed the rest of the baseball season.

In his lawsuit, originally filed in Cook County Circuit Court, Fowler accused the ball club of negligence, claiming the box could not be easily seen and had no padding or covering.

The White Sox attempted to have the case moved to federal court, arguing Fowler's claim is covered by the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA) because of the collective bargaining agreement between Major League Baseball and its players.

The agreement includes rules over the establishment and management of a safety committee, the team argued. The White Sox also claimed there was "complete preemption" because of LMRA provisions that require federal courts to take over in "suits for violation of contracts between employer and a labor organization."

U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman disagreed with the club's argument for removal of Fowler's case, citing case law: “[A] state-law claim is ‘completely preempted’ only when it is inextricably intertwined with consideration of the terms of the labor contract," Feinerman said in his ruling.

The judge added: "No club could have reasonably believed....that the (safety) committee would be able to identify safety risks so comprehensively and effectively that, as long as the committee raised no objections, the club could simply assume that nothing in its premises posed an unreasonable risk to players."

Feinerman said the claim is not completely preempted by the LMRA, and since that was the White Sox's sole argument for removal, the judge ruled in favor of Fowler and ordered the case sent back to state court for further proceedings.

Fowler is represented in the action by attorneys Michael J. Sorich, of the Cavanagh Law Group, of Chicago; Richard J. DePonto and John J. Bailly, of the firm of Bailly & McMillan LLP, of New York.

The White Sox and the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, which owns Guaranteed Rate Field, are represented by attorneys Neil H. Abramson and Adam M. Lupion, of Proskauer Rose LLP, of New York; and Grace E. Mangieri, Gretchen H. Sperry, Robert T. Shannon and Chadwel D. Kasdin, of the firm of Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, of Chicago

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Organizations in this Story

Cavanagh Law Group Chadwel D. Kasdin Chicago White Sox Circuit Court of Cook County Hinshaw and Culbertson Major League Baseball Proskauer Rose LLP Proskauer Rose LLP Robert T. Shannon U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

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