By Carla Varriale
Last month, along with the start of baseball season and the start of recreational leagues, New York’s Appellate Division, Second Department held that the doctrine of primary assumption of risk barred a personal injury action arising out of a baseball player’s collision with a stationary base.
The plaintiff, an experienced recreational baseball player who was playing in a tournament at the time of the alleged accident, slipped on artificial turf as he was running to second base. He struck the second base bag with the inner portion of his left foot and sustained severe personal injuries including a fractured fibula. Prior to the accident, the defendants had resurfaced the playing field, which was made of artificial turf, and installed stationary bases instead of breakaway bases. The plaintiffs alleged, among other things, that the defendants were negligent in failing to warn players of the use of stationary bases instead of breakaway bases.
The Appellate Division, Second Department held that the doctrine of assumption of the risk defeated the plaintiff’s negligence action. It affirmed the summary judgment initially rendered in favor of the defendants. The Court noted that as the operators of the premises where the baseball tournament was held, the defendants did not owe a duty of care to the plaintiff because he had an appreciation of the nature of the risks and, notwithstanding that awareness, he voluntarily assumed the risk of injury. The plaintiff was sixteen years old at the time of the alleged accident and an admittedly experienced baseball player. The plaintiff’s deposition testimony that he was aware of the rigidity of the bases before the accident was an admission that proved fatal to his negligence action against the defendants. Moreover, there was no proof that the defendants unreasonably increased the alleged dangers beyond the usual dangers inherent in the sport at the time of the alleged accident by using stationary bases instead of breakaway bases. The judgment below was affirmed in the defendants’ favor.
The case, Jason Gonch, et al. v. Baseball Heaven, Inc., et al. (2019 Slip Op 03030) was decided on April 24, 2019.
Carla Varriale is a litigator and an instructor at Columbia University’s Sports Management program where she teaches “Sports Law and Ethics.” Her practice includes the defense of clients in the sports and recreation industries and the representation of athletes in matters brought before the U.S. Center for SafeSport. She can be contacted at email@example.com