Injured Slow-Pitch Softballer Strikes Out in Court


Craig v. Amateur Softball Association of America (Pennsylvania)
(Softball Player Struck in the Head by Softball During Game Assumed the Risk of Injury.)

Plaintiff was struck in the head by a softball while playing in a slow-pitch softball game. He was not wearing a helmet at the time and his injuries were serious injuries. The defendant softball league filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that it did not owe a duty of care to plaintiff to prevent the injury, and that even if such a duty existed, that plaintiff had assumed the risk of this injury by voluntarily choosing not to wear a helmet. In granting defendant’s motion, the trial court ruled that defendant owed no duty to prevent inherent risks of softball. Plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, plaintiff argued that his claim should be excepted from the “no-duty” rule because his injury was not the type that was inherent in softball. However, the Court disagreed, highlighting the fact that many prior cases in this jurisdiction had held that the risk of being struck by a softball was inherent in the sport. As a secondary argument, plaintiff argued that because he paid registration dues to the organization, a contractual arrangement had been formed which heightened the duty of care owed to him by the defendant. However, there was no provision in the alleged contract between the parties which supported the application of a higher duty of care.

Additionally, plaintiff argued that public policy favored the finding of a duty of care because there was “a strong public interest in ensuring the safety of athletes, and . . . prevent[ing] horrific head injuries from occurring during participation in . . . softball game[s].” However, the Court found no basis in the law for such a conclusion. Moreover, plaintiff asserted that he did not knowingly consent to the risk encountered, such that he did not assume the risk. However, the Court explained that even if it accepted, for argument’s sake, that the risk of being struck by a softball must be explicitly assumed (which position was not supported by case law), the Court did not need to determine whether plaintiff assumed the risk of being struck as he was not owed a duty of care (i.e., the risk was inherent in the activity).

Finally, plaintiff contended the defendant “deviated from the established custom of requiring or at least recommending the wearing of batting helmets during softball games.” However, the plaintiff failed to provide any evidence of the custom he alleged was established. The Court indicated it was not permitted to reverse the trial court simply because plaintiff “baldly avers” the defendant had violated established custom. Plaintiff argued that it should have been allowed to conduct additional discovery to uncover evidence that it was foreseeable that players not wearing helmets during softball games could be injured. But the Court stated that the plaintiff’s logic was “defective.” The Court explained that “[a]ll inherent risks which fall within the auspices of the no-duty rule are by definition foreseeable.” Therefore, “[o]nce a risk is deemed inherent, it no longer matters whether the risk is foreseeable, as the inherency determination mandates application of the no-duty rule ab initio.” Thus, further discovery was not warranted, and the lower court’s decision was affirmed.

NOTE: Plaintiff in this case certainly had a tough row to hoe. You would think a plaintiff would have a difficult time arguing (with a straight face) that being struck by a softball is not an inherent risk in the sport of softball. Apparently anything is possible. The plaintiff came at it from all angles, and was rebuffed on all accounts. Sport facilities and organizations should be cognizant that injured plaintiffs will be apt to argue that failure to enforce rules increases the risk of injury (e.g., not enforcing a helmet rule). If a facility or organization is aware that rules are not being enforced, and it appears that such failure could potentially lead to injury, action should be taken. One should not rely on assumption of the risk arguments alone.

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