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Baseball legal roundup: Skaggs, Dotel/Castillo, Royals

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Another week jam-packed with baseball legal news

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Tyler Skaggs’ Autopsy Report Filed; Wrongful Death Suit Coming?

On Friday, the Tarrant County Medical Examiner filed an autopsy report which included the probable cause of death of late Angels lefthander Tyler Skaggs. The results were shocking, and not in a good way. As Dylan Hernandez wrote,

Tyler Wayne Skaggs died July 1 by choking on his vomit after ingesting a dangerous mix of drugs and alcohol, according to a report released by the Tarrant County medical examiner in Texas.

Fentanyl, oxycodone and alcohol were found in his system.

Perhaps even more shocking was the accusation which came later in the day from Skaggs’ family, which denied the pitcher used drugs and added this bombshell:

We are grateful for the work of the detectives in the Southlake Police Department and their ongoing investigation into the circumstances surrounding Tyler’s death. We were shocked to learn that it may involve an employee of the Los Angeles Angels. We will not rest until we learn the truth about how Tyler came into possession of these narcotics, including who supplied them. To that end, we have hired attorney Rusty Hardin to assist us.

To be blunt, the family is essentially accusing the team of being a possible cause of Skaggs’ death. Under a legal doctrine called respondeat superior, a company is legally responsible for the acts of its employees undertaken in the course of that employment.

Texas, where such a case would be filed because it was the site of Skaggs’ death, has laws which provide that surviving family members may sue for wrongful death. Under a case called Sanchez v. Schindler, family members of the decedent may recover not only pecuniary loss - that is, in essence, the future earnings of the deceased - but also emotional and mental distress and what is called “loss of society” and “loss of consortium.”

In other words, in Texas, the plaintiffs may seek and recover damages for the lost companionship of their loved one. As the Texas Supreme Court explained,

The jurisdictions that do not limit recovery to pecuniary loss realize that damages for loss of companionship and society of a child are not too uncertain to be measured in pecuniary terms in an attempt to redress the actual loss which a parent suffers. These elements of damage are not too speculative to be given a monetary value. Recovery is allowed in other tort areas for injuries which are equally intangible; e.g., pain and suffering. The fear of excessive verdicts is not a sufficient justification for denying recovery for loss of companionship. The judicial system has adequate safeguards to prevent recovery of damages based on sympathy or prejudice rather than fair and just compensation for the plaintiff’s injuries.

A parent’s recovery under the wrongful death statute includes the mental anguish suffered as a result of the child’s wrongful death. The destruction of the parent-child relationship results in mental anguish, and it would be unrealistic to separate injury to the familial relationship from emotional injury. Injuries resulting from mental anguish may actually be less nebulous than pain and suffering, or injuries resulting from loss of companionship and consortium. A plaintiff should be permitted to prove the damages resulting from a tortfeasor’s negligent infliction of emotional trauma. This includes recovery for mental anguish.

Hardin, for his part, might be primarily known as a celebrity attorney, but he’s also a very talented lawyer, having won cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. To baseball fans, he’s most known for successfully representing Roger Clemens in his perjury trial; the pitcher was acquitted on all counts.

At this point, we don’t know the basis for the family’s accusation, but it seems remarkably unlikely that they’d make such an explosive accusation without some kind of evidence. For their part, the Angels are already gearing up for a potential legal battle.

The Skaggs family and the Angels each have retained attorneys based in Texas, where Skaggs died July 1 on the first day of a team trip to play the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros. The prospects of a wrongful-death lawsuit appear significant, given that the family‘s assertion in a statement Friday that they had learned the “circumstances surrounding Tyler’s death … may involve an employee of the Los Angeles Angels.”

That statement prompted Major League Baseball to launch an investigation. Police in Southlake, Texas — where the Angels were staying that night — have been investigating since Skaggs’ death. The attorney hired by the Skaggs family, Rusty Hardin, intends to pursue his own probe.

The always-excellent Michael McCann also weighed-in for Sports Illustrated.

While the death appears to be an accident and while there were no signs of trauma or foul play—Skaggs was found without externally-injury, fully clothed and on his bed—it remains unknown how Skaggs obtained fentanyl and oxycodone. Both drugs are prohibited directly or indirectly by MLB and MLBPA’s drug policy. Likewise, the circumstances in which Skaggs used those drugs, including whether other people were with him as he consumed and whether he was encouraged to overconsume, have not been revealed. It is also unclear whether anyone was in a position to call 911 after Skaggs took ill but before he passed away.

The fact that Skaggs died with prohibited substances in his system raises another round of uncomfortable questions for the Angels and Major League Baseball. As for the Angels, players were asked whether they knew of Skaggs’ drug use, a charge they denied.

“Obviously, if I knew I would definitely have said something or did something,” Trout said. “It’s tough. You love Tyler. We didn’t know he was going through this. Just a tough situation when this came out. Tough to put your mind to it. But it doesn’t change the way I feel about Tyler and the way he impacted my life.”

And for MLB, Skaggs is the second high-profile player in four years to die of drug-related causes, which means that the league is once again under the microscope. The last high-profile drug investigation where MLB was involved didn’t end so well for baseball. If a player was able to procure these drugs so readily, how effective is MLB’s anti-drug initiative, really? Is MLB really taking steps towards the elimination of drugs in the game? Is the enforcement of MLB’s drug policy really working? Nearly a decade after the suspension of Alex Rodriguez left MLB’s reputation in tatters, we find ourselves very much back where we started.

Dotel and Castillo Cleared

Last week, we wrote about the charges of drug smuggling implicating World Series champions Octavio Dotel and Luis Castillo.

Oops.

A week after Luis Castillo and Octavio Dotel headlined a list of suspects named in an investigation of drug trafficking in the Dominican Republic, local authorities have cleared the former MLB players of charges of money laundering.

The public prosecutor announced Friday that he’s suspending the arrest warrant against Castillo after an interview during which Castillo presented documentation to demonstrate he’s not linked to the criminal organization.

Dotel’s attorney told the press that his client is owed a public apology by authorities after spending nine days behind bars.

Royals Sold to John Sherman

As our very own Patrick Brennan wrote a few days ago, David Glass was in the process of selling his controlling stake in the Kansas City Royals to Cleveland Indians minority owner and Kansas City business mogul John Sherman.

Glass, for his part, stands to make a substantial profit; after buying the team for $96 million in 2000, the sale price now will be $1 billion. That sale price, incidentally, matches exactly the Forbes team valuation from April of this year, and is yet more evidence of how substantially the rise in franchise valuations and revenues are outstripping player salaries.

The Royals have a massive price tag despite ranking fourth-to-last among MLB teams in both local revenue and operating income and playing their home games in a relatively small television market at aging, though recently renovated, Kauffman Stadium. While less financially attractive than other MLB teams, the rising price of sports media rights deals have bolstered team values and made all pro sports franchise a worthwhile investment for billionaires with cash to burn . . . . Team valuations in U.S. sports leagues have surged in recent years, driving sale prices to record levels. The Miami Marlins, who rank last in MLB by value and operated at a loss in 2018, sold for $1.2 billion in 2017. The recent sales of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers for $2.2 billion and the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets for a total of $2.35 billion in each a record in their respective sports.

Already, speculation has begun about the Royals, under Sherman, petitioning Kansas City for a new, publicly funded downtown stadium to replace aging Kauffman Stadium, which most recently underwent major renovations in 2006. That said, the irony of a municipality gifting a publicly funded stadium to a billionaire who just spent a billion dollars on a baseball team is quite evident, even as the team’s lease for Kauffman stadium doesn’t expire for another decade.

One other factor in the sale could be the impact the transaction has on the Cleveland Indians. Sherman was known in Cleveland for providing the Dolan family with the capital they needed to make payroll increases, such as acquiring Andrew Miller, and his departure may be connected with Cleveland’s recent decisions to cut payroll. In any event, it’s clear that Sherman’s stake, between 20% and 30% of the Cleveland baseball team, will likely be sold back to the Dolan family, leaving the team with far less financial flexibility to spend. The single most significant repercussion of the sale, therefore, may be end the of Indians’ current competitive window.