During the course of trial in the above-captioned matter, the court rendered an opinion on the defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint at the close of plaintiff's case. Because it is
important to establish principles of liability in contact sports injury cases, this court has reduced its oral opinion to writing.
On May 1, 1988, the plaintiff, Michael Crawn, and the defendant, John Campo, were participants in a "pick up" softball game. There were no coaches or umpires officiating at this game. The game was not conducted under the auspices of any organized group or league. The rules of the game were acknowledged to be the "general rules of softball" with certain modifications. As a matter of custom, the rules of the game were not put in writing but were simply agreed upon orally by the players.
At one point during this softball game, the plaintiff was playing the position of catcher while the defendant (a base runner) was making his way from third base to home plate. As the defendant approached the plate, he either slid or lowered his shoulder and collided with the plaintiff/catcher who was standing near home plate. As a result of this collision, the plaintiff contends that he was injured and sustained a torn cartilage in his knee.
A dispute exists as to whether a "no sliding rule" was applicable to this game as well as a rule prohibiting intentional contact by a base runner with a fielder. According to the plaintiff, who was playing the position of catcher, sliding and intentional contact with a fielder were against the agreed upon rules of the game. Furthermore, the defendant's actions were allegedly unsportsmanlike, unexpected and done with a reckless lack of concern for the other participants in the softball game. Thus, the plaintiff alleges that the defendant was violating the rules of the game when he slid into home plate.
On the other hand, the defendant denies that he breached the rules of the game because he contends there were no rules prohibiting sliding or intentional contact with a fielder. Under these circumstances, the defendant/base runner asserts that the base line belonged to the runner and the plaintiff/catcher assumed the risk of contact by placing himself in a position
where a base runner's sliding could result in a collision between these two players. Therefore, the defendant averred that he was not breaching any of the established rules.
On March 9, 1989, the plaintiff brought suit against the defendant alleging negligence, recklessness, and intent to harm. On June 1, 1989, the defendant filed an answer denying liability and raising the defenses of assumption of risk and comparative negligence. Once brought to trial, the defendant moved to have the complaint dismissed at the end of the plaintiff's case, claiming that the plaintiff failed to make a prima facie case proving that the defendant was liable for the plaintiff's injury.
During the oral argument on the motion to dismiss, counsel focused on the issue of the duty of care owed to participants in a sporting event such as a softball game. For the reasons that follow, the court holds that between players in such sporting events, only those injuries caused by intentional conduct or by acting in reckless disregard of the safety of others will give rise to a ...