How Careful Should Athletes (and Defendants) Be in New Jersey? (NJ)
In Mesar v Bound Brook Board of Education, a teenage plaintiff sued his local school board after he severely broke his ankle while playing baseball for the school team. Specifically, he claimed the assistant coach improperly signaled for him to slide into third base as he approached, causing the injury.
The defendants won summary judgment in the first instance and plaintiff appealed. The Appellate Division took the opportunity to reiterate that although it is incumbent on instructors and coaches not to increase the risks over and above those inherent in the sport, the appropriate standard of care for accidents in sports is recklessness.
However, in making this motion, defendants argued plaintiff had failed to plead recklessness in his complaint, rather than arguing, plaintiff presented insufficient facts to support a claim of recklessness. When evaluating whether a complaint should be dismissed for failure to state a claim, the Court must determine “whether a cause of action is ‘suggested’ by the facts,” and the Appellate Division found plaintiff’s complaint met that very lax standard.
As a result, even though defendants successfully obtained the higher standard of care for the time of trial, refraining from arguing insufficient evidence to satisfy the standard meant the motion was remanded to revisit that issue.
The ruling is beneficial for defendants in that it pushes back on any narrowing of the recklessness standard in the context of sports accidents, but it is a reminder to make alternative arguments on dispositive motions to close any possible backdoor escape hatches for plaintiff’s counsel.
Thanks to Nicholas Schaefer for his contribution to this post. Please e-mail Vincent Terrasi with any questions.