(Photo via ESPN)
The loss of Tyler Skaggs is an unfortunate tragedy, the effects of which will play out in the legal world for a while. Skaggs was a veteran pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Athletes face a lot of pressure to perform well for their individual success as well as the success of the team. That pressure also means battling through pain and injury for the same success. Skaggs felt the pressures for success with the Angels and struggled through injury as well. In 2015, Skaggs had Tommy John surgery and missed the entire season. He returned the following season and pitched through pain. Skaggs led the Angels in several pitching categories while the pain and pressure continued until 2019 when he passed away due to an overdose of a combination of oxycodone and fentanyl given to him by Eric Kay, an Angels staff member.
Eric Kay was the former Communications Director for the Angels who had a history of opioid abuse in the past. Kay had abused opioids with Skaggs for years and admitted to federal investigators that he had given Skaggs the medication days before his death. Kay had also informed investigators that there were members of the Angels staff that were aware of Skaggs’ history of drug use. The information provided by Kay has led to Kay’s own criminal trial set for November 8, 2021. In addition to the criminal trial, two civil cases have also been opened against Kay, the Angels, and another former Angels staff member.
Skaggs is survived by his parents Debbie Hetman and Darrell Skaggs as well as his wife Carli Skaggs. Two civil cases have been filed against the Angels: one by Tyler Skaggs parents and one by his wife. The civil action in both cases is for wrongful death and negligence. To prove negligence, a plaintiff (the Skaggs) must show four elements: (1) a duty of care was owed to the plaintiff by the defendant, (2) a breach of that duty of care, (3) injury because of the breach of the duty of care – known as causation, and (4) damages. The Skaggs argument is that the Angels “…owed Tyler Skaggs a duty to provide a safe place to work…” and that the duty was breached because Kay, an employee with access to players like Skaggs, provided opioids to Skaggs and should have had knowledge of this dealing and the result was Tyler’s tragic death. The argument for the claim for negligence against Eric Kay and the other member of the Angels organization is that they are liable because they were working within the scope of their employment with the Angels when the wrongdoing occurred. In response to the complaints filed, the Angels made a statement that the lawsuits "are entirely without merit and the allegations are baseless and irresponsible," and that they would "vigorously defend" in court. In their attempt to defend themselves, the Angels organization has decided to not cooperate with federal subpoena’s regarding their internal “independent” investigation. For more on the Angels subpoena issue, see The LA Angels Subpoena: What Does it Mean? by Evan Mattel.
These civil cases are in the beginning stages with no trial dates set but there are strong arguments made by the plaintiffs that the Angels were aware not only of Eric Kay’s drug abuse but also Tyler Skaggs history. Tyler Skaggs was performing under the pressure that the ball club enabled and that meant suffering through pain and injury. He turned to opioids for pain management reasons, and he absolutely is not the only one to do so. Kay had told investigators that he believed five unnamed players within the Angels organization have been using opioids and that he had been supplying them from 2017 through 2019. These players will potentially testify in Kay’s criminal trial.
Tyler Skaggs tragic story has led to changes throughout baseball and has created a spotlight in the opioid epidemic throughout the country and its reach into the wide world of sports. The MLB, in agreement with the MLB Players Association, put a system in place to test players for opioids. Players that test positive will be placed in a treatment plan and further positive tests could result in punishment. The agreement between the MLB and MLBPA has also led to the removal of natural cannabinoids (CBD, marijuana, etc.) from the list of “Drugs of Abuse.” This could lead to a change in pain management practices for players throughout the league and potential changes for other leagues. More research is necessary to understand the link between pain management and cannabis consumption but the research that has been done is promising and deserves more attention.
All in all, there has been a complex legal fallout from Tyler Skaggs passing. It is clear that the criminal and civil cases will put a bright spotlight on the opioid problem. From there, we can only hope that baseball - and society - learn an important lesson from this tragic event.
 Debbie HETMAN and Darrell Skaggs, v. ANGELS BASEBALL, LP, Moreno Baseball, LP,, Moreno Baseball Companies Inc., Eric Kay, and Tim Mead., 2021 WL 3550550  Quinn, T.J. “Los Angeles Angels Employee Details Team's Knowledge of Tyler Skaggs' Drug Use to Federal DEA Investigators.” ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures, October 12 2019. https://www.espn.com/espn/otl/story/_/id/27828247/los-angeles-angels-employee-details-team-knowledge-tyler-skaggs-drug-use-federal-dea-investigators-espn  Nathan Fenno (@nathanfenno) Twitter (August 26, 2021 3:09PM) https://twitter.com/nathanfenno/status/1430970560725471236?s=21  “Attorney Work Product Privilege.” Legal Information Institute. Legal Information Institute. Accessed August 27, 2021. “Negligence.” Legal Information Institute. Legal Information Institute. Accessed August 28, 2021. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/negligence  HETMAN et al v. ANGELS BASEBALL, LP, WL 3550550  Quinn, T.J. “Pitcher Tyler SKAGGS' Family Files Suits against Los Angeles Angels, Former Employees.” ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures, June 29, 2021. https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/31731359/pitcher-tyler-skaggs-family-files-suits-angels-former-employees.  Mattel, Evan. The LA Angels Subpoena: What Does it Mean? Conduct Detrimental August 27, 2021 https://www.conductdetrimental.com/post/the-la-angels-subpoena-what-does-it-mean  Fenno, Nathan. “Prosecutors in Tyler SKAGGS CASE Accuse Angels of Not Complying with Subpoena.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, August 24, 2021. https://www.latimes.com/sports/angels/story/2021-08-24/tyler-skaggs-prosecutors-angels-investigation-eric-kay-drugs  Zialcita, Paolo. Major League Baseball Drops Marijuana, Adds Opioids, Cocaine To 'Drugs Of Abuse' List. NPR. NPR, December 12, 2019 https://www.npr.org/2019/12/12/787550622/major-league-baseball-drops-marijuana-adds-opioids-cocaine-to-drugs-of-abuse-lis Mark A Ware, Dennis Jensen, Amy Barrette, Alan Vernec, & Wayne Derman, Cannabis and the Health and Performance of the Elite Athlete 28 Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine 480 September 2018