The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has affirmed a lower court’s ruling that a soccer association, which was sued after a freak injury on the field, was shielded from the negligence lawsuit by a state law that confers immunity on such associations.
The incident that led to the litigation occurred on April 10, 1998, when Dustin Welch, then 12, was participating in a soccer practice on Haskell Field in the town of Sudbury. At either end of the field were metal goal posts and nets that were used for both practices and organized matches. The goal posts were acquired by the Sudbury Youth Soccer Association, Inc. and the Massachusetts Youth Soccer Association, Inc. During the practice, a goal post flipped over and struck Welch on the right leg, causing it to fracture.
The minor sued, claiming the associations were negligent, alleging that they breached their duties to maintain the goal posts in a safe and secure condition, and to warn him of the danger that existed if the goal posts were not properly anchored to the ground. The minor further claimed that the dangerous condition created a public nuisance, which, in turn, caused him to suffer serious harm.
In an effort to work around immunity-based protections, the minor claimed that the real estate exception set forth in Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 231, § 85V(iii) precluded the associations from employing that defense. The trial court disagreed, granting judgment on the pleadings for the associations. Welch appealed, and the supreme judicial court transferred the case from the Appeals Court.
The supreme judicial court found, inter alia, that the soccer goals were not real estate. The harm alleged by the minor did not result from a deficiency in the care and maintenance of the soccer field itself. Rather, he was injured by the alleged improper placement of sports equipment on the real estate. Therefore, “the associations’ alleged failure to securely anchor the goal posts was a ‘failure to act in conducting such sports program,’ which fell squarely within the broad immunity conferred on them by § 85V. Accordingly, judgment on the pleadings in favor of the associations was warranted.”
Dustin Welch v. Sudbury Youth Soccer Association, Inc.; Sup. Jud. Ct. Mass.; SJC-10242, 453 Mass. 352; 2009 Mass. LEXIS 33; 2/5/09
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiff) Theresa K. Capobianco. (for the defendants) Joseph F. Leighton, Jr.