In Lerman v. Little League Council of New York City Inc., the 10 year old plaintiff was struck in the face by a baseball and injured during Little League practice. This was plaintiff’s very first practice and his mother told the coach that the child had no experience. The coach proceeded to place the plaintiff at shortstop, and the third batted ball struck plaintiff in the face. Plaintiff’s parents had signed the League’s waiver form.
In opposition to the Little League and the coach’s motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff’s mother claimed that the defendants breached their duty of reasonable care to the child and were negligent in their supervision and coaching by failing to test the child’s skill set before putting him on the field and by placing him at the “highly skilled” shortstop position despite being warned by his mother that he had never played baseball before.
While defendants claimed that plaintiff voluntarily assumed the inherent risks involved in playing baseball, his mother asserted that the defendants created a dangerous condition that caused his injuries by their indifference to his level of skill and experience.
In granting defendants’ motion dismissing the complaint, the New York Supreme Court cited the long line of cases holding that “by engaging in a sport or recreational activity, a participant consents to those commonly appreciated risks which are inherent in and arise out of the nature of the sport generally and flow from such participation.” The court noted that the applicable standard should include whether the conditions caused by the defendants’ negligence are unique and created a dangerous condition over and above the usual dangers that are inherent in the sport. In contrast, related risks which are commonly encountered or are inherent in a sport, such as being struck by a ball or bat in baseball, are “risks for which participants are legally deemed to have accepted personal responsibility.” The theory of negligent supervision is inapplicable where a plaintiff has assumed the risk.
The Court concluded that plaintiff consented, through his parents, to the possibility of being struck and injured by a baseball during practice, and the coach’s decision to place the plaintiff at shortstop was immaterial.
Thanks to Sara Matschke for her contribution to this post and please write to Mike Bono with any questions.