• David Billet

The Los Angeles Angels, Fentanyl, and the Death of a Star Pitcher

Updated: Apr 3

Image via La Times

Prince, Tom Petty, and Mac Miller will forever be bonded by both their fame in the music industry and the prescription drug that tragically stole their life: fentanyl.[1] Fentanyl is believed to be responsible for more than 50% of drug overdoses nationwide[2] and has killed more than 50,000 people in the year 2020 alone.[3] As a drug crisis continues to rage throughout the country,[4] a leading pitcher on the Los Angeles Angels, Tyler Skaggs, has also fallen victim to the dangers associated with the usage of fentanyl.[5]

On July 1, 2019, Tyler Skaggs was found unconscious in his hotel room and was later pronounced dead.[6] A medical examiner found that Skaggs’ cause of death was oxycodone that was laced with fentanyl, which was given to him by the Angels communications manager, Eric Kay.[7] On February 17, 2022, Eric Kay was criminally convicted for providing Skaggs a controlled substance which led to his death.[8]

Following the criminal conviction, a civil lawsuit was filed by Skaggs’ parents and widow against the Los Angeles Angels for acting negligently and they are seeking money damages.[9] While predicting the future has never been a hobby of mine, the Angels will likely reach a private settlement with Tyler Skaggs’ family well before this case ever has the chance to be tried in court.

Firstly, Skaggs’ tragic death has already harmed the Angels tremendously. This case has brought about tons of negative publicity, has harmed the Angels standing in the league, and exposed to the world the sad reality that drug use has been rampant in their locker room. To enable any chance of success in the coming season, the Angels need this incident to become a tragic accident of their past, rather than a painful dispute of the present.

Secondly, negligent supervision is when someone who has a legal obligation to supervise another fails to do so responsibly.[10]

Negligent supervision primarily consists of three elements: 1) a person or individual had supervisory responsibility over an individual, 2) the supervisor failed to supervise the individual under its authority, and 3) the resulting injury was directly due to the supervisor’s failure to oversee the individual.[11]

In our case, the Los Angeles Angels clearly had supervisory authority over Eric Kay because he was the communications manager of the team. The Angels also failed to supervise Kay since he recently returned from rehab and still maintained consistent contacts with the players. One can certainly recognize the danger and potential influence that a known drug user can have on others. Finally, it was strongly proven at Eric Kay’s criminal trial that he was solely responsible for providing the drugs to Skaggs.

Thirdly, vicarious liability establishes that an employer can be held liable for the actions of an employee that harms another party.[12] Unlike negligent supervision, an employer can be held vicariously liable solely based off their status as an employer, rather than the manner that they acted. In our case, it can be strongly argued that the Angels should be held liable since they employed Kay and his actions occurred during the scope of his employment.

In conclusion, a private settlement will likely be reached in the coming months because of the tremendous negative publicity associated with this tragedy and the strong support for finding liability. This tragedy has become the biggest scandal in the MLB and has enveloped the Angels organization to focus their energy on all topics other than baseball. Moving forward, we must never forget that fentanyl can kill, drugs are dangerous, and that the lives of our loved ones must always be cherished.

David Billet is a 3L at Fordham Law School and has a Bachelor of Arts in Accounting from Queens College, CUNY. He can be reached on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/david-billet-234b48127.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/05/arts/music/mac-miller-overdose-fentanyl.html [2] https://drugabusestatistics.org/fentanyl-abuse-statistics/ [3] https://nida.nih.gov/drug-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates [4] https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/us-opioid-epidemic [5] https://www.justice.gov/usao-ndtx/pr/former-angels-communications-director-eric-kay-convicted-tyler-skaggs-overdose-case [6] Id. [7] Id. [8] Id. [9] https://www.si.com/mlb/2021/06/29/tyler-skaggs-family-sues-team-former-employees-death [10] https://www.maggianolaw.com/blog/negligent-supervision/#:~:text=Negligent%20supervision%20is%20when%20someone,and%20church%20youth%20group%20leaders. [11] Id. [12] https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/vicarious_liability