A District of Columbia Superior Court jury has ordered the Wilson Sporting Goods Co. to pay $775,000 to a Major League Baseball umpire injured by a foul ball that knocked off his Wilson-made face mask.
Ed Hickox, who has since resumed his duties as an MLB umpire, suffered a concussion and several broken bones after a foul ball struck him in the jaw while he was umpiring a Washington Nationals’ game at RFK Stadium on May 14, 2005. The protective face mask Hickox was wearing at the time – manufactured by Wilson and given to Hickox for free by a Wilson representative – flipped off of his head upon impact.
Hickox sued Wilson, claiming the company was responsible not only because the mask failed to protect his face as advertised, but also because the company failed to tell Hickox that the company had not tested the mask with the same rigor they used to test hockey face masks.
“An ordinary customer would expect the umpire’s mask, built to protect the umpire’s face from stray baseballs, not to harm Plaintiff when a baseball strikes the mask,” Hickox wrote in his complaint.
Hickox was represented by Patrick Regan and Paul Cornoni of Washington’s Regan Zambri & Long. Regan, in a telephone interview today, said he was not surprised the jury ruled on Friday in Hickox’s favor, since Wilson maintained that using field testing – that is, seeing how the mask held up while it was worn by umpires and catchers – was sufficient testing.
“They were using the umpires and catchers as human guinea pigs,” Regan said.
Timothy Fizer of Krause, Fizer, Crogan & Lopez in Owings Mills, Md., represented the company. He said an appeal is likely.
The verdict was "obviously disappointing," Fizer said in a phone interview today. "Our position was that the mask was not defective."
A Wilson representative could not immediately be reached for comment.
Regan said he did not know how many of the face masks in question were given for free to MLB umpires and catchers or sold to the public. He did say that Wilson did do more testing on the mask following the 2005 incident, but did not reveal the results of the test or what, if any, changes were made to the mask’s design.
An MLB representative also could not immediately be reached for comment.
Updated at 2:40 p.m. with additional reporting.