The family of a Roswell man who plunged to his death last August from the upper deck at Turner Field filed suit Tuesday against the Atlanta Braves and Major League Baseball, claiming negligence relating to how high the guard railing should be.
The lawsuit claims that the railing in front of Section 401 was only 30 inches high.
The family of Gregory Kent Murrey argues, through their attorneys, that the railing should be at least 42 inches — what the suit calls the industry standard.
“Had the rail been 42 inches, Mr. Murrey would not have fallen over the rail,” stated the complaint filed in Fulton County State Court.
The death of the 60-year-old Murrey, who according to a recently-released toxicology report was legally intoxicated, marked the 24th time someone died after falling at a Major League Ballpark since 1969.
Of those, Atlanta has had the most deaths.
Since 2008, three people – although one was ruled a suicide – have died after falls at Turner Field.
In 2011, Shannon Stone fell 20 feet onto the concrete at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, and died, after tumbling over a 33-inch rail. Although not mandated by Major League Baseball, the Rangers spent $1.1 million to extend the heights of all front railings to 42-inches.
“I think that made sense,” said Robert Gorman, author of a book titled “Death at the Ballpark.” “If you are very tall like I am, 6-2, if you hit those things around your knees, someone my size could topple.”
Immediately after Murrey’s death, Braves officials said they were “constantly evaluating ways to ensure fan safety while maintaining the game-day experience.”
Michael L. Neff, an attorney representing Murrey’s widow, Laura Hale Murrey, said that hasn’t been enough.
“Nothing has gotten done and no commitments have been made on the Braves’ part or Major League Baseball,” Neff said. “And they didn’t have any interest in talking to us.”
Guard rail height in question
Gorman, who has written extensively about accidents and deaths at ballparks, said according to the International Building Code, the actual minimum height for railings in front of seats is 26 inches.
“So if that is the case, the railing at Turner Field was higher than that,” Gorman said. “The problem with the railing is how it affects the line of sight. If the railing blocks a view, I don’t know how people would want to sit in those front-row seats. And teams know that.”
Neff said aside from wanting railings raised at major league stadiums, his client will also be seeking a monetary settlement, although he hasn’t said for how much.
“We seek compensation for the value of Greg’s life. Mr. Murrey was a successful businessman, husband and grandfather, so the jury is going to have to make that call. It would be premature to put out a figure,” Neff said.
Nine months after Murrey’s death, there has been no apparent move by the Braves to raise the height of the railing at Turner Field. After this season, the Braves will relocate to a new stadium in Cobb County.
In a statement last year, Braves officials said they were working with architects to “ensure that SunTrust Park has effective safety protocols in place at the time of opening.” It did not provide specifics on what measures will be put in place at the new Cobb County ballpark.
“I don’t know what the future use of Turner Field is,” Neff said. “The Braves are going to a different stadium and they have ducked the issue of how high the rails were going to be. They have never given a direct answer.”
The Atlanta Braves declined to comment Tuesday on the lawsuit.
But according to the building permit for SunTrust Park, the guardrails range from 30 inches in the “lower bowl,” to 47 inches in the “upper bowl.”
A 40-foot fall
It was the top of the 7th inning on Aug. 29, 2015, and the New York Yankees had just taken a 2-0 lead. With one out, Alex Rodriguez — who sat out the entire 2014 season for using performance enhancing drugs — was announced as a pinch-hitter.
Like many of the 49,000 people there, Murrey, a grandfather who owned an insurance business in Roswell, got up to boo the slugger.
According to witnesses, as Rodriguez was digging in, Murrey stood up from his seat in the second row of the 400 level and lost his balance.
He passed through the front row as he toppled over the railing, landing about 40 feet down in section 202. No one else was hurt.
Rodriguez walked, and the Braves went on to lose the game 3-1.
Murrey died before reaching Grady Memorial Hospital.
The death was ruled an accident by the medical examiner’s office, which also said no underlying medical condition was found that contributed to Murrey’s death.
In the toxicology report issued on Sept. 24, 2015, which was never reported on and obtained Wednesday by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Murrey had a blood-alcohol level of 0.104.
In Georgia, 0.08 is the legal limit for adults over 21-years-old to drive.
‘There is movement’
While baseball has seemingly not been quick to raise the height of railings, there has been movement to provide more netting around the stands to prevent people from getting hit with flying bats and errant baseballs.
During a game on Aug. 30, 2010, at Turner Field, a 6-year-old girl sitting behind the Braves dugout was hit in the head by a foul ball, fracturing her skull in 30 places and causing traumatic brain injury.
Last December, baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred recommended last December that all teams extend the netting from behind home plate to either the near ends of the dugouts or to any seat within 70 feet of the batter’s box, similar to what all ballparks in Japan do.
And all base coaches must now wear helmets, following the death of a minor league first base coach who was killed by a foul ball during a game.
“Obviously, for many years, people got hit and nothing happened, so there is movement. They can’t gloss things over,” Neff said. “When you have an issue where it is life or death, it should crystallize from a business owners, perspective that something needs to be done to address what is going on.”