Monday, December 5, 2011

No Liability For Home Plate Collision

The South Carolina Supreme Court has held that a baserunner who collided at home plate with the catcher in a Boy Scout softball game is not liable for damages. Both catcher and baserunner were fathers who participated in the game.

The facts:

In March 2004, David Cole and his son, David Jr., who was a member of Cub Scout Pack 48, attended a Cub Scout family camping trip.  During the course of the trip, Cole and David Jr. participated in a father-son, pick-up softball game.  Jeff Wagner and his son were also on the camping trip and were playing on the opposite team from the Coles in the softball game.   Although one of the older boys had been playing catcher, Cole took over the position because he was afraid the boy would be hit by a foul ball or by the batter. 

Neither of the teams kept score, and during each inning everyone was allowed to bat.  Apparently, some of the fathers were playing too aggressively in the minds of some participants and hitting the ball with full swings.  One of the Scout leaders, Keith Corley, briefly interrupted the game and asked them to play more safely, fearing that they were putting the scouts in danger. 

During Wagner's next turn at bat, he hit a double.  Another father came up to bat after him and hit the ball into the outfield, potentially allowing Wagner to score.  As Wagner reached home plate, he collided with Cole, who had moved on top of the plate, thereby placing his body directly in the baseline.  Wagner was running so fast that he was unable to stop or change directions in time to avoid Cole.  Upon impact, Wagner flipped in the air and landed on a bat, breaking a rib.  Cole suffered a closed head injury and was rendered semiconscious.  He then began bleeding and went into convulsions.  Cole had to be airlifted to Palmetto Richland Hospital where he spent two days in the intensive care unit.  David Jr. witnessed the entire accident in fear that his father was going to die. 

Cole and his wife Karen, personally and as guardian ad litem for David Jr. (collectively, Appellants), brought this action against Wagner, the Boy Scouts of America, Indian Waters Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Pack 48, and Faith Presbyterian Church for personal injury, loss of consortium, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.  Wagner moved for summary judgment, contending he owed no duty to Cole because Cole assumed the risks incident to the sport of softball.  The circuit court granted Wagner's motion, and this appeal followed.   

No liability:

Even assuming, arguendo, that Wagner's conduct could be characterized as reckless, it was not so reckless as to involve risks outside the scope of softball.  The likelihood of someone running too fast to stop or playing more aggressively than anticipated is part of the competitive atmosphere of athletics.  Almost all contact sports, especially ones that require protective gear as part of their equipment, involve conduct that a reasonably prudent person would recognize may result in injury.  To the extent these risks inhere in the sport involved, we hold some recklessness by coparticipants in a contact sport must be assumed as part of the game. Accordingly, a player assumes the risk of ordinary recklessness committed within the course of the game.

We emphasize that this holding is limited to recklessness committed within the scope of the game and does not include intentional conduct by a coparticipant of a sport, or conduct so reckless as to be outside the scope of the game.  Even within the context of a contact sport, players owe reciprocal duties to not intentionally injure each other.  Cole does not allege that Wagner's conduct was intentional nor does he allege such recklessness as would fall outside the scope of the game of softball.  Thus, Wagner's conduct fell within the duty of care he owed to Cole as a coparticipant in the game.

(Mike Frisch)

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