Liability for boy's severe knee injury (laceration) playing baseball?

by Gil
(Whittier, CA)

My 8 year old son was playing in a baseball tournament at a privately owned field in West Covina, CA last month and was seriously injured during the game. The tournament was being hosted by a private baseball organization and they were using the private field (company) for their games.

When this injury occurred, my son’s team was at bat, the bases were loaded, and he was on 2nd base. The batter hit the ball to the center field area. As soon as the ball was hit, my son ran from second base, rounded 3rd base and slid into home plate to beat the throw in.

As soon as he finished his slide, he started screaming and crying in pain holding his right knee. The catcher was not close to my son when he slid into home plate, he was a few feet in front of the plate catching the throw in.

I ran down to the field to help him and noticed a small amount of blood coming through his white uniform pants in the right knee area. I lifted his right pant leg to see how bad his injury was and noticed a large laceration across the top of his knee area, exposing his fatty tissue and knee bone.

The laceration was about 5” in length (horizontal) and opened approximately 3” to 4”. I looked at the home plate area to see what could have caused this deep and long laceration.

I noticed that the front edge of the home plate (facing the pitcher) and the corner area edge (facing 3rd base) were exposed, slightly elevated and missing compact dirt around that area, which undoubtedly caused the laceration when his right bent knee slid over the unsafe area of the plate.

We called an ambulance and he was transported to the ER. While at the ER, he was X-rayed to check for broken bones, which luckily returned negative. He received approximately 20 interior stitches and 28 exterior stitches to close the deep laceration.

I know and understand the whole ‘assumption of risk’ doctrine... but in this case, a poorly maintained home plate area of the field is not an inherent risk of the sport. Right?

My son has played baseball for almost one year now. He started last year in winter league and continued playing this year’s regular (spring) season where he was selected to play with the All Star team which he was part of when he was injured.

He knows how to slide very good. He has slid into 2nd base, 3rd base, and to home plate on several occasions without ever receiving a laceration, or even an abrasion to his knees or legs and no twisted ankles or sprained knees.

We were able to get pictures of the home plate area where my son was injured, and of my son's injury (pre and post operation).

In addition, we got pictures of the home plate area of a second field (within the same facility/company) in which his team played later on that day. That home plate was flushed /recessed with the field dirt and no corners were exposed - the way a home plate should be.

We reached out to the private field (company) so we can arrange insurance coverage for our son's medical bills. We left voicemails and e-mails with no call backs or returned e-mails. We were trying to avoid the courts, but it looks like we might pursue legal action against them.

My questions are...

1) Can the privately owned company that owns the field(s) be held liable for his injuries due to negligent field maintenance? It was the first game of the morning so the field should have been prepped properly and in good condition. But more importantly, the home plate appeared to be old, loose fitting and obviously not safe for play.

2) Can the tournament host be held liable for not ensuring that the fields they are using to host their tournaments in are in proper and safe conditions for play?

3) Can the umpire (not sure who he’s employed by) be held responsible / liable for not ensuring that the field is safe for play?

Thank you for any information you can give.

Visitor Question:
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ANSWER for "Liability for boy's severe knee injury (laceration) playing baseball?":

Gil (Whittier, CA):

There is a thin legal line between assumption of risk and negligence.

In your son's case, there is a good argument negligence played a substantial role in his injury. While parents, on behalf of their children, assume a reasonable risk when permitting their children to engage in sports, the assumption is based on an understanding that the condition of the field will be in accordance with the rules and regulations of the respective sport.

In other words, as a parent, you assumed the risk based on a reasonable understanding the risk could involve fractures, sprains, cuts, bruises, bruises, etc. which occur under normal conditions. In your son's case, it could be argued normal conditions did not exist.

For example, let's say home base was secured in its place and your son sustained the same injury while sliding into home. In that case, the field owner would likely not have been negligent, and as a result, you wouldn't have a viable negligence claim against the field owner.

You permitted your son to play based on your reasonable belief home base was secure. It wasn't. Even if the base loosened during the game, the field owner still may be liable. The base should have been secure enough to stay in place throughout the game.

There is a good argument the umpire should have noticed the the problem, and remedied it. As a result, he or she could be considered negligent. Moreover, if the umpire was hired by the field owner or sponsor, the umpire could be considered an "agent," making all three parties liable.

Because of the seriousness of the injury, you would be best served by speaking with a personal injury attorney. There's too much at stake for you to try and handle the case yourself. You can be confident one or more of the parties will not admit liability.

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from an attorney licensed in your state. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Judge Calisi

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