Baseball Player Used Eye As Catcher’s Mitt, Assumed The Risk (NY)
In Grady v Chenango Valley Central School District, Plaintiff, then a high school senior and member of the Chenango Valley High School boys’ varsity baseball team, sustained permanent injuries to his right eye after being struck in the head by a baseball during a combined varsity and junior varsity outdoor baseball practice. Plaintiff commenced this action alleging that his injuries were caused by defendants’ negligence in, among other things, conducting multiple infield drills with multiple balls simultaneously in play without proper safety precautions and equipment. Defendants moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint. Supreme Court granted the motion and dismissed the complaint, finding that plaintiff assumed the risk of injury. Plaintiff appeals.
The Appellate Division, Third Department upheld the lower court’s decision, holding that risks which are commonly encountered or inherent in a sport, such as being struck by a ball or bat in baseball, are risks for which various participants are legally deemed to have accepted personal responsibility.”
Plaintiff testified that he has played baseball since he was a young child and had played on his school’s modified, junior varsity and varsity teams in previous years. Plaintiff voluntarily participated in baseball practices, including the multiple ball infield drill and the testimony makes clear that plaintiff appreciated the risk of getting hit by an errant throw.
Although plaintiff asserts that the presence of a screen between certain players may have provided a false sense of security that they would be protected, thereby creating a dangerous condition beyond the normal dangers inherent in the sport, this argument is belied by his testimony unequivocally establishing that he did not rely upon the screen for safety but, rather, thought that the drill was unsafe even in the presence of the screen.
The Court’s majority ruled the evidence showed that plaintiff was an experienced baseball player who “knew of the risks, appreciated their nature and voluntarily assumed them,” defendants demonstrated their prima facie entitlement to summary judgment under the primary assumption of risk doctrine.
In dissent, Justice Pritzker believed there was a question of fact as to whether the plaintiff could have assumed the risk when the safety screen, he deemed, was inadequate. The purpose of the screen was to make the drill reasonably safe; however, instead of choosing a screen because it was a particular size or shape, the screen they utilized was chosen out of convenience, as it was what was the largest one available. Notably, plaintiff’s expert opined that the screen was too small and was not positioned in a manner so as to protect plaintiff at first base. Accordingly, it is my opinion that this case is more properly analyzed using the standard employed in cases involving inadequate safety equipment.
Thanks to Paul Vitale for his contribution to this post. Please email Georgia Coats with any questions.