Major League Baseball finds itself in a new off-the-field conflict as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The league and all 30 of its teams have filed suit in California Superior Court against their insurance providers for losses incurred due to the circumstances surrounding the 2020 season.
MLB claims to have lost billions of dollars between ticket, concessions, parking, merchandise and media sales in 2020 due to the inability to bring fans to the ballpark or play a full-fledged 162 game season. While it is fairly certain that the league and its owners did in fact take such losses this year, what is in question is whether or not the damages taken on by the league were physical and therefore covered under the insurance policies held with companies AIG, Factory Mutual, and Interstate Fire and Casualty.
Within the suit documents themselves, the MLB claims that the presence of COVID-19 on insured property, presumably ballparks and other facilities, is physically attached to these items and therefore has caused a physical change that led to the losses.
Such a claim feels not only flimsy, but also like a ridiculous double-edged sword. Under the current logic of the MLB, the way they would go about recovering insurance money that they feel entitled to would be to first claim and then prove that a deadly disease has attached itself to their own property. MLB claims within the suit that COVID was in every single one of their facilities. How do they plan to prove this? Swab the ballparks in the name of COVID tests? Have infected players testify? I can imagine this episode of Law and Order: Baseball Litigation Nonsense right now.
MLB’s Attorney as played by David Hasselhoff: “So, Mr. Turner. They stuck you in a room but didn’t lock you in. Do you feel like the plaintiff kept the facility safe?”
Justin Turner as played by Tormund in Game of Thrones: “Oh no. No way. I walked right out, and I was touching everything in there. The walls, the doorknobs, the dugouts. There was COVID all over that place. I would know.”
Hasselhoff: “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, as you can see, MLB’s precautions were weak and ineffective. There was clearly a dangerous disease within MLB facility walls. The defense rests, your honor.”
*queue the Law and Order sound*
Naturally, the real answer is probably to hire a team of scientists and prove their reasoning that way, but in doing so, doesn’t the league still stand to incur more criticism? The NBA spent all summer proving they could have a COVID-free bubble. And then they did it. Now, MLB is spending the ensuing winter trying to prove their facilities were disease-stricken all along. How silly.
Beyond the specifics of the MLB’s argument, it seems that precedent may also not reside within the league’s favor. According to the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School over 1,400 similar lawsuits dealing with insurance providers and interrupted operations have been brought due to the pandemic. A case was brought by the Atlanta Falcons, for instance, as well as some that were even brought by teams within minor league baseball who had their operations cancelled. At least one minor league case brought in Arizona was dismissed due to a clause in their policy that excluded happenings dealing with viruses.
It seems to be unknown whether or not such a clause is included in MLB’s insurance policies, but such a tenet would not be surprising. For as unfruitful as a case of this type has the potential to be for Major League Baseball it is absolutely head-scratching that they would move forward with it.
A lot of people and businesses are hurting as 2020 comes to an end, and it seems fair to assume that even a multi-billion-dollar entity like Major League Baseball isn’t exempt from financial pain. Many teams have acted loss stricken so far throughout this off-season. But to what length and to what level of desperation is MLB willing to go to re-coop their losses? How many straws is a multi-billion-dollar operation heralded strongly enough to be considered our national pastime willing to grasp at?
Companies capable of building a better future for themselves during the uncertainty that surrounds them right now are going to be better for it. This is a time for innovation, not litigation. Yet baseball continues to be set in its own old ways even more that one may originally recognize.
The shame in this is that not only is it not likely to be successful or even logical. It’s tone deaf.