Law Review; America’s national pastimes clash in court
It was 6:10 p.m., the end of a clear day. The field had no lights. Ryan Balthazor, sixth in the batting line-up, was at bat.
The first pitch was wild, but Ryan ducked in time to avoid it, knowing that the same pitcher had previously struck two other players.
The second pitch came his way, but this time 11-year-old Ryan wasn’t as quick and took the pitch in the face, resulting in a broken nose, an eye injury, and cracked facial bones.
Young Ryan and his parents, not being pleased with America’s national pastime, resorted to American’s other national pastime.They sued the Little League.
The Balthazors claimed Ryan should be entitled to recover for his injuries for three reasons.
First, the League negligently (there’s that word) supervised the game by failing to end it as sunset approached.
Second, the League and the umpire should have removed the “wild pitcher.”
And, third, the League should have provided helmets with faceguards, not just the normal helmet and ear guard.
The court responded that changing lighting conditions are inherent in baseball, such as when the sun blinds the center fielder and the routine fly ball drops at his feet. Oh, I remember it so well.
As to the wild pitcher theory, the court wrote: “Accuracy in pitching, especially for a teenager, has never been a prerequisite to being allowed to pitch.” We all know that.
Finally, Ryan’s parents failed to realize that the legal obligation of the organizers of a sport is not to increase the risks inherent in the sport; there is no obligation to decrease the risks.
For example, another court found that Mammoth Ski Resort had no duty to decrease the risk of injury by padding ski lift towers.
Courts often analogize to other cases with similar facts, and this court cited several: no liability was found when a student enrolled in a rock climbing class fell to his death because anchor devices installed by the instructor came loose; whereas liability was found when a riding instructor directed a student to jump his horse over fences that were “unreasonably and unnecessarily high for the circumstances,” and where the supervisors for a teen tryout permitted the pitcher to continue to pitch after he complained that he had injured his arm.
RISK INHERENT IN THE SPORT
The court concluded that Ryan Balthazor’s injury resulted from “an errant pitch, a risk inherent in the sport.”
This is a good decision. If the court had found otherwise, Little Leagues would either go out of business, or the players (from batters to fielders), and perhaps even spectators, would be safely dressed as ice hockey goalies.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon, with offices in Truckee and Reno.
He is a mediator and the Governor’s appointee on the California Fair Political Practices Commission.
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