12-year-old’s slide injury to cost Little League $125K

by Walter Olson on August 6, 2009

Staten Island, N.Y.: Little League Baseball Inc. and the New Springville Little League have agreed to pay $125,000 to settle Jean Gonzalez’s suit charging that negligent coaching and the use of a stationary base were responsible for her son Martin’s knee injury, incurred while sliding into second base. Two coaches were named personally in the lawsuit. “The defendants countered that Martin had been taught the proper sliding technique, and the bases used, detachable ‘Soft-Touch’ ‘pop-up’ bags, were compliant with all safety standards” and considered safer than the alternative design. The family’s lawyer was Alan C. Glassman of Brooklyn. [Staten Island Advance; our earlier coverage]

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08.21.09 at 7:44 am

{ 38 comments }

1 Bob Lipton 08.06.09 at 8:29 am

You know, about forty years ago I injured my right knee falling off a table in a high school play. It still twinges occasionally. Should I sue my old school for negligence or my parents for failing to sue in a timely fashion?

Bob

2 Invid 08.06.09 at 8:34 am

Wow….only $125k? Minus the attorney fee and subrogation for the surgeries (assuming insurance paid for them) this plaintiff is not walking away with much.

3 Todd Rogers 08.06.09 at 9:24 am

Gives me chills – I coach YMCA baseball. Buy liability policy to coach lil’ league…what next?

4 Robert 08.06.09 at 10:28 am

Back in my day, second base was a rock, and third base was the top of a metal garbage can! And I grew up just fine!

In all seriousness, it’s impossible to make something like baseball 100% safe, and where do you draw the line? Unfortunately, with a sympathetic plaintiff–like some little boy–these lawsuits are probably easy to win, especially if the unfortunate kid was hurt seriously.

5 Jim Collins 08.06.09 at 10:48 am

It was my understanding that part of each player’s participation fee went to Little League International (LLI) to pay for insurance for this sort of thing. I believe that LLI acts as it’s own insurer, so I fail to see why this is an issue.

6 gitarcarver 08.06.09 at 11:54 am

so I fail to see why this is an issue.

Issue 1: LLI, the local league and the coaches were SUED. There was not an insurance claim made.
Issue 2: The league had approved safety bases into which the kid slid. This highlights the idea that fixing a safety hazard actually opens an entity up for litigation.
Issue 3: The unpaid, volunteer coaches who spend hundreds of hours with the kids were sued as individuals.
Issue 4: Said coaches contend they taught the kid to slide correctly, but the child slid incorrectly. How is this the fault of the coaches that must hire lawyers, and have additional stress in their lives?
Issue 5: Not every injury is the fault of someone other than the injured person.
Issue 6: You cannot litigate risk out of every sport, game and activity. Leagues are hurting because of a lack of volunteers, and this type of case where coaches are sued as individuals will only make the problem worse.
Issue 7: The parents were probably either at home or in the stands because they were too busy or too scared to take on being a coach. They were effectively “out of harms way.” But I guarantee that if the mother or father was a coach on the team, they would not have sued the other coaches.

7 Eric T 08.06.09 at 12:16 pm

The article has a factual dispute as to the type of base that was used. I would assume, based on the fact that the case settled and was not dismissed on assumption of risk grounds, that the bases that were used were the stationary kind.

Nobody coughs up $125K on a case like that unless there is a good reason to do so.

8 Todd Rogers 08.06.09 at 12:16 pm

Very chilling – I get the fact that anyone can sue anyone for anything. What I don’t get is how the coaches would be exposed and possibly risk personal assets/expenses while performing in good faith under the LLI umbrella. They would get named in the pleading I suppose. But unless there is some evidence that LLI was a bogus entity and “pierce-able” or the coaches were just acting like reckless fools, wouldn’t said coaches be removed from the suit through the efforts of LLI’s insurer’s counsel? It just seems rather senseless (and frightening).

9 scooby 08.06.09 at 12:35 pm

Thank you Jean Gonzalez, for being like every other american who sues over everything little thing. thank you.

10 gitarcarver 08.06.09 at 12:36 pm

that the bases that were used were the stationary kind.

The league used “Soft Touch” bases which are break away bases as opposed to non-stationary bases. The Soft Touch system allows for a certain amount of force to be applied before the base breaks away from its mount. Other “break away” systems break apart almost at the touch of a person.

This gets back to balancing a risk in a risk sport. In my experience, the Soft Touch system is a little safer as the standard “break away” bags break when a kid rounds the bag to go to the next base. The standard break away bag slides away and the kid can tear a ligament, sprain an ankle or break a bone. (I have seen that happen.)

Nobody coughs up $125K on a case like that unless there is a good reason to do so.

How about the fact that defending the suit may have cost the defendants more than the $125K?

This settlement occurred five years after the incident. With three sets of lawyers on the defendants side, I can see the billable hours reaching that amount. Furthermore, you have a “sympathetic defendant,” a young boy of 12 who “dreamed of playing in the majors” who dream was ripped away by the callous actions of mean, win at all cost coaches and an organization that makes millions and millions of dollars every year ….. look at the TV contract and see how they exploit these young, innocent children. (Insert large, crocodile tears here.)

11 Bob Neal 08.06.09 at 2:15 pm

Eric, you have know idea what you are talking about. Nothing gets dismissed on assumption of risk grounds anymore, even firefighters who willingly enter burning buildings are able to sue and get around the doctrine. And the only ‘good’ reason necessary to cough up the $125k is the concern that 12 people in a box will be more sympathetic to the child than they will to the coaches (and, they will assume insurance is covering it, so no harm, no foul).

I sent my son to a day camp this week for Lacrosse. Half of the fee was to cover insruance for the coaches. Sad.

12 Ron Miller 08.06.09 at 3:06 pm

Once again, every commenter knows everything about the facts of a case and starting drawing conclusions. Yet we know nothing.

My office handles hundreds of personal injury cases a year. We have never taken a participant sports injury case. Ever. I’ve taught Sports Law for 12 years. The standards in Maryland and in most jurisdictions make claims extremely tough. Couple that with that fact that jurors see these cases just as many of the commenters do. If they settled this case for $125K, I’ll bet you 50-1 there are some good facts that have not been raised in the blog post or these comments.

Bob Neal says half of the fee for lacrosse camp went to cover insurance for the coaches. What exactly is your evidence of this? How did you get your information?

13 Eric T 08.06.09 at 4:15 pm

Eric, you have know idea what you are talking about. Nothing gets dismissed on assumption of risk grounds anymore,

Well, I happen to practice here in NY. You don’t. Dismissals in sports cases rarely move forward in NY as they usually go down on summary judgment. Here is a sample:
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2006/2006_03737.htm
The relevant law is: “The doctrine of assumption of risk is a form of measurement of a defendant’s duty to a voluntary participant in a sporting activity (see Benitez v New York City Bd. of Educ., 73 NY2d 650, 657 [1989]). The voluntary participant is deemed to have consented to apparent or reasonably foreseeable consequences of engaging in the sport;”

Now I think you would agree that getting hurt while sliding is reasonably foreseeable. And yet the case was not dismissed, but went forward. So it seems obvious to me that there facts that are missing that were not very favorable to the defendant.

How about the fact that defending the suit may have cost the defendants more than the $125K?

Insurance companies don’t pay those kinds of rates in PI cases.

With three sets of lawyers on the defendants side

Where did you get that from? Likely that Little League was doing all the defending. But even if the coaches had individual lawyers, they would likely be taking a back seat to the LL.

And the only ‘good’ reason necessary to cough up the $125k is the concern that 12 people in a box will be more sympathetic to the child than they will to the coaches (and, they will assume insurance is covering it, so no harm, no foul).

In case you were wondering how I knew you didn’t practice law here, you gave yourself away. We have 6-person juries, not 12. And Staten Island is notoriously conservative.

Obviously there was more to the story than was presented here or in the article. While the LL may have claimed they used a break-away bag, the actual facts may be different. And that, I am guessing, is the reason the lawyer took the case and the reason it settled.

Just my two rupees…

14 gitarcarver 08.06.09 at 6:45 pm

Insurance companies don’t pay those kinds of rates in PI cases.

What insurance company? From the article:
A bad slide that injured a young Staten Island player five years ago will cost Little League Baseball Incorporated and the New Springville Little League $125,000.

Where did you get that from? Likely that Little League was doing all the defending. But even if the coaches had individual lawyers, they would likely be taking a back seat to the LL.

The fact that LLI, the local league and the coaches were sued as individuals is where one gets that from. Whether one set of lawyers takes a back or front seat has nothing to do with the cost of defending a suit as all of the lawyers are getting paid.

While the LL may have claimed they used a break-away bag, the actual facts may be different.

Do you have a citation for this? Or is this speculation on your part?

15 Eric T. 08.06.09 at 8:52 pm

While the LL may have claimed they used a break-away bag, the actual facts may be different.</i?

Do you have a citation for this? Or is this speculation on your part?

The article said that the defendants said one thing and the plaintiffs the other. In fact, Walter cited both sides in his posting. That you elected in comment #10 to present only one side of the story doesn’t mean there wasn’t another side.

The fact that the case settled for $125K represents my best guess that the plaintiffs had the better argument.

As to the insurance company and the number of lawyers involved I’ve made my best guess based on local practices. I would consider it quite odd if there was no insurance, and I think that many would decline to coach unless the LL agreed to insure them, and I think the landowner might also decline to let them use the fields (likely a municipal field of some sort).

By the way, I not only practice law here, but I am also the race director for a local trail half marathon. Even though there is well-established law on the issue of assumption of risk, the local municipalities insist that we have insurance for the race.

16 gitarcarver 08.06.09 at 9:48 pm

The article said that the defendants said one thing and the plaintiffs the other. In fact, Walter cited both sides in his posting.

This is one of those things where you are “unschooled” on the subject matter.

Here is the quote from Mr. Olson’s post:
and the bases used, detachable ‘Soft-Touch’ ‘pop-up’ bags, were compliant with all safety standards” and considered safer than the alternative design.

“Soft Touch” is a break away bag. It breaks away differently than other bags.

The fact that the case settled for $125K represents my best guess that the plaintiffs had the better argument.

Because cases have never been settled as it may be cheaper to settle rather than a long protracted case?

As to the insurance company and the number of lawyers involved I’ve made my best guess based on local practices.

LLI is not local. Have you ever dealt with them? Have you ever been involved with a lawsuit involving an injury a ball field? The reason I ask is that while you constantly remind us of your experience in the state, what is missing seems to be your history or experience with being sued by a parent for an injury on a ballfield.

I would consider it quite odd if there was no insurance, and I think that many would decline to coach unless the LL agreed to insure them, and I think the landowner might also decline to let them use the fields (likely a municipal field of some sort).

I would take that to mean that you have not dealt with LL in any way since your answers revolve around what you “think” and what you “guess.” (That is not meant as an insult. It is just the way your writings seem to be coming off.)

By the way, I not only practice law here, but I am also the race director for a local trail half marathon.

Okay. Fair enough. Now please allow me to tell you my experience. I have been involved with two lawsuits filed against LLI, and a local league. In both cases, the coaches were sued. In one case, the umpire was sued. LLI and the local league’s attorney always advised that the coaches and umpires get their own representation. Furthermore, before moving on to concentrate on other baseball endeavors, I was the head umpire and also the vice president of a local league.

While your experience in New York law and running races is valuable to some extent, I would think that you would value the experiences of someone who has actually seen the bases in question, seen different designs for bases, dealt with LLI, been sued by parents as a board member, signed contracts with local municipalities, signed contracts with LLI and has actually had their name on a lawsuit from a parent as an individual.

17 Eric T. 08.07.09 at 6:37 am

I would take that to mean that you have not dealt with LL in any way since your answers revolve around what you “think” and what you “guess.” (That is not meant as an insult. It is just the way your writings seem to be coming off.)

That’s right. I hedge my answers here, and in other posts. There are two reasons:

1. We are limited by the information in the article; and
2. For those facts in the article, we don’t really know how accurate they are.

Thus, what might be important to you and I (for example, who actually paid and how many lawyers) might not have been important to the reporter and thus not included in the article. Or they could simply be be carelessly written.

The issues isn’t why I hedge in my answers, but rather, why others frequently don’t.

18 Lisa Carroccio 08.07.09 at 8:01 am

This is so typical of Staten Island (I am a resident of SI for 40 years). No wonder I don’t let my 7 year old play LL here….LOL

19 gitarcarver 08.07.09 at 9:05 am

The issues isn’t why I hedge in my answers, but rather, why others frequently don’t.

Thanks for the laugh.

20 Richard Nieporent 08.07.09 at 10:00 am

Gitarcarver, thanks for the enlightening discussion of this Little League lawsuit. I find it amusing how some people would use the result of a lawsuit as justification for bringing the lawsuit in the first place. Thus, if you prevail in a lawsuit you must have been justified in bringing it because there is never a miscarriage of justice. The jury always makes the right decision in a lawsuit.

By the way Gitarcarver, remind me never to play poker with you. I loved the way you sandbagged our NY lawyer friend. You let him believe that you could not possibly know as much as him when it came to this type of lawsuit until you showed him that you indeed knew what you were talking about. I am reminded of those films where there is a poker game and the pot grows larger and larger. Finally the bad guy (No I am not calling you a bad guy Eric T. Please don’t sue me! :) ) calls the hero and states that he has a full house, aces high. The hero says he only has two pairs. As the bad guy smiles and starts to rake in the pot, the hero slowly lays down his hand – a pair of deuces and another pair of deuces.

21 Eric T 08.07.09 at 11:06 am

I find it amusing how some people would use the result of a lawsuit as justification for bringing the lawsuit in the first place.

I find it amusing how some people pretend they know everything about the facts of a case based on an article in a local paper.

I’ve done little more than make educated guesses based on the pieces of info in the paper. Most importantly, I’ve stressed that those are little more than educated guesses.

As you know from being a contributor to this forum, all too often people try to extrapolate out from facts, without mentioning that the “facts” may be in dispute or unknown.

22 gitarcarver 08.07.09 at 11:49 am

I find it amusing how some people pretend they know everything about the facts of a case based on an article in a local paper.

This is an assumption without a basis in fact. My sources were more than just an “article in a local paper.”

I’ve done little more than make educated guesses based on the pieces of info in the paper.

Several of those “guesses” were contrary to published facts and facts outside of the “local paper.”

Most importantly, I’ve stressed that those are little more than educated guesses.

And what has been stressed back is that the guesses were not educated. You claimed to know the bases and their design – but didn’t. You claimed that the coaches would not hire attorneys, but yet the legal advice given by LLI is always that individuals get their own counsel. Your whole premise was based on the idea that articles were wrong or that the only way Little League settles this is because they were wrong. Those aren’t educated guesses, Eric. Those are fabrications based on what you want to believe, rather than the evidence in front of you.

Richard,

Thank you for the kind words.

23 B Rad 08.07.09 at 1:16 pm

All this banter back and forth here and all I’m thinking is that a kid sliding into a base and hurting his knee will probabably not improve little league but likely result in less of an opportunity for a boy or girl to play organized sports.

24 Eric T 08.07.09 at 1:35 pm

You claimed to know the bases and their design – but didn’t.

No. I didn’t. Read again. Defendant said they were breakaway and plaintiff said they were stationary. Two different versions. This is a factual dispute as to what was on the ground.

You claimed that the coaches would not hire attorneys

No, I didn’t. I said it was likely that LL would do all the defending, but that even if the coaches had their own attorneys, they would likely take a back seat to the LL.

Your whole premise was based on the idea that articles were wrong…

Not even close. Other readers are invited to re-read my posts if they so choose.

…or that the only way Little League settles this is because they were wrong.

You know, first you belly-ached that I was hedging in my responses, and now you are trying to do the opposite by attributing opinions in absolute language to me (“your whole premise,” “the only way”).

It’s sort of hard to have a discussion when the other person keeps changing their opinion and moving the goal posts.

25 Ron Miller 08.07.09 at 1:39 pm

Like every case, the ultimate issue is what the facts on THIS CASE. No one knows much of anything about the facts of this case outside of that article. Which, you have to understand folks, does not tell us much about a case. This is why we actually have had trials in this country since before we founded the place. You don’t make decisions about the merits of a case after reading 5 paragraphs.

I love the idea of mocking someone for hedging their bets when no one know what they were talking about. As if it were a bad thing to not assume that you know more than you do. Do you really think that people shouldn’t qualify their words when they don’t have all of the facts?

Finally, to B Rad’s point. Maybe. I don’t know how many kids want to play but can’t play because of the price. Has anyone even suggested with any evidence what the added cost is of insurance (or self-insurance) to play in a participant sport? (Again, this is not a highly litigated area.) So I don’t know how much we are talking about. But if it is dollar, supply and demand tells us there will be less supply if the price goes up even a little.

The flip side of all of this is that you also have to realize that someone out there is saying, “Hey, we really need to make sure we are being as safe as possible with these kids because no one want to get sued.” Does this have an impact on safety? Absolutely.

26 B Rad 08.07.09 at 3:32 pm

I don’t think anyone wants to make kid’s sports less safe. Ron, the price I’m talking about is the decreased opportunity and availability for a boy or girl to play a sport because a mom or dad volunteer just doesn’t want to risk having to defend themselves one day bacause little Johnnie took one on the chin.

27 gitarcarver 08.07.09 at 6:31 pm

No. I didn’t. Read again. Defendant said they were breakaway and plaintiff said they were stationary. Two different versions. This is a factual dispute as to what was on the ground.

I see. So when the paper says it is one thing and you agree with it, that is a “factual dispute.” When you disagree with what the paper said, you write that the paper may be in error or sloppy reporting.

After talking to some people familiar with the case, both parties said the bags were the “Soft Touch” brand. The issue was whether the base was “stationary” or “breakaway.” No dispute on the brand, just whether the bag used had one label or another.

Your analysis of whether the coaches hired lawyers was your “guess,” based on …. well…. based on your experience with things other than lawsuits with Little League. That isn’t hedging, that is putting your experience in front people that have actually dealt with this situation.

You made several conclusions and have tried to hold onto them in the face of other facts.

It’s sort of hard to have a discussion when the other person keeps changing their opinion and moving the goal posts.

I know the feeling.

Take care.

28 Madalyn 08.09.09 at 6:36 pm

Where does it end? When I was growing up there were so many things I got hurt on. Did I sue? Did my parents sue? Heck no – why? Because back then we all used common sense. Nowadays everybody could get rich for some self-imposed injury and claim it was someone else’s fault. I have always been considered “poor” and I am not ashamed of it. On several occasions I could have sued someone and made a lot of money, but I didn’t feel it was the right thing to do. So, I am still poor, but at least I have my pride intact.

29 Brian 08.18.09 at 4:24 pm

Perhaps the alleged “break away” base has a faulty design and LLI did not perform some kind of “best practices” test before allowing their leagues to use them. I’ve actually seen and played on these bases and feel they are more dangerous than regular stationary bases. I know little league mandated the use of “safety bases” and I presume the impetus for this was a high occurrence of sliding injuries. Question is what requirements are necessary to be a provider of equipment to LLI – a royalty fee? Is there a “break away” base out there that has been clinically tested and proven to reduce sliding injuries??

30 Phil 08.18.09 at 11:18 pm

So what’s next, turning it all into T-Ball using those extra soft tennis balls and making all fielders use hockey goalie padding? We get 5 & 6 year old’s nailed by balls all of the time and the parents tell them to walk it off and get back out there.

Besides, if you want your kids to learn fundamental, pay for the f’king lessons instead of relying on volunteer coaches to teach them everything. We have our hands full as it is scheduling practices/games and making sure everyone is there, can hit, catch, and throw to worry about if every single kid knows the fine art of the figure four slide.

Worst of all is the judge that didn’t laugh this lawsuit out of court.

31 DanM 08.19.09 at 12:50 pm

I cannot believe this was even in court. Can I sue her for emotional distress since I am a coach and have a hard time functioning properly because I’m worried about getting sued by the players? Can I sue her for negligence because she didn’t teach her son how to slide properly? When is all of this going to stop?

32 Steven 08.19.09 at 4:06 pm

Does it really matter what kind of bases were out their? The fact is a little kid slid into 2nd and got hurt. Things like this happen all the time, this doesn’t mean you sue everybody because of an accident. This is ridiculous. Kids and adults get hurt all the time playing sports, thats just what happens.

33 Corey 08.23.09 at 11:57 pm

This is what is wrong with our country these days. It was so much better when we were growing up and things were based on common sense. I remember one time a friend and I egged the neighbor’s car when we were around 13, a couple of men there roughed us up a little for it. Nowadays it would be big lawsuit, but our dads just said serves you right, you’ll think about it next time.

We should change the court system so people like this get hit with heavy fines for frivolous lawsuits if they lose. Now it’s just like hitting the lottery and you don’t even have to buy a ticket.

34 Johnn 08.25.09 at 12:34 pm

This lawsuit is just wrong. Steven is right….putting the “law” aside can we really say that it is right to sue volunteers and a little league (LITTLE LEAGUE!!!) organization because you’re child got injured? I invite you to disagree with my opinion, and tell you who do this: you are the reason America is falling. And I am sick of people like you.

35 Brian 08.28.09 at 6:43 pm

Your comment as to whether it really matters the kind of bases used does matter if in fact they are faulty in design. As I said in my prior comment, the soft touch base is more dangerous than regular stationary bases (in fact, they’re a piece of crap) and if an international institution like LL “recommended” them without properly vetting them, then they should be held liable.

36 Melvin H. 08.30.09 at 12:36 pm

Brian, if I remembe right, Little League was being sued because of injuries “caused” by stationary bases, so they went to the “soft-touch” (breakaway?) base; now they are being sued because of injuries “caused” by these “soft-touch” bases???
Make up your mind, please!!
You either have a breakaway or a stationary base; there is no in-between. Or worse, you go to a different design base, and you get sued for injuries “caused” by that base.
Sounds to me like these groups which once complained about butter, touting trans-fats 20 years back; now these same groups are suing to get rid of trans-fats!

37 Mark 08.31.09 at 6:47 pm

I find this whole discussion regarding tort reform to be a bunch of BS. We trust people for everything in this country, the free market, voting in this Democracy but somehow when it comes to juries everyone is a bunch of idiots that can not be trusted with determining justice. We talk about those emotional “juries”. Well justice is an emotion. We determine what is just by what we feel. Democracy has a cost and is not efficient as is the case with justice but it is the best we have. Democracy is not about capitalism and efficient markets. Justice is a core value to this Democracy.

“I know of no safe repository of the ultimate power of society but people. And if we think them not enlightened enough, the remedy is not to take the power from them, but to inform them by education.” – Thomas Jefferson.

“For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” – John F. Kennedy

38 Mark 08.31.09 at 6:56 pm

“The fact is, tort costs in the U.S. jumped 46% in just the pasts five years. As noted in this space yesterday, a new study by the Pacific Research Institute reports that the total direct and indirect costs of lawsuits are a staggering $865 billion (for context, the U.S. spends only about $108 billion a year fighting the war in Iraq).”

What is the total cost as it relates to the GDP? What percentage of the $865 billion are frivolous lawsuits? Of those frivolous lawsuits what percentage were corporate America? These numbers mean nothing. A 46% growth has no relavant meaning. How much did the GDP grow in that time frame?

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