James Weagley, Recreation Consultant ::::
Case Description: The plaintiff, a 10 year old boy, was seriously injured while pitching to his coach in a backyard batting cage. Two boys had just finished taking turns hitting off a pitching machine when the coach arrived and instructed the plaintiff to pitch to him in the batting cage. On the second pitch, the coach hit a ball directly back at him. The boy didn’t have adequate time to catch the ball, and the ball struck him in the face causing facial fractures and a concussion. The plaintiff has residual problems including poor vision, headaches and cognitive difficulties resulting from the physical trauma caused by this event.
Analysis: The plaintiff and coach’s son took batting practice in the outdoor batting cage in the coach’s backyard. One child fed baseballs into a pitching machine behind a protective “L” screen, while the other batted. When the coach arrived, he asked the plaintiff to pitch to him instead of using the pitching machine. Additionally, according to the plaintiff’s testimony, the distance from which he pitched was approximately 20-25 feet. This is a dramatically shorter pitching distance than the 46 foot regulation distance littleleague.org recommends. It is unreasonable to believe that a 10 year old boy would have the hand eye coordination and reaction time necessary to successfully react to a batted ball struck by an adult male. The distance that the plaintiff pitched from was significantly shortened and created a dangerous situation.
The exit velocity of the ball from the coach’s bat would have far exceeded any speed the plaintiff would have encountered playing against children in his own age group. A protective “L screen” was present but was positioned incorrectly so that it afforded the plaintiff no protection. Even if it were positioned correctly, this boy had never pitched before so it is unlikely he would have the pre-requisite awareness of proper follow-through and ready fielding position to catch and protect himself from a batted ball. The plaintiff was not wearing a protective batting helmet nor was he wearing a glove which may have afforded him additional protection from a batted ball.
Opinion: Safety is of paramount importance to all sports activities. This coach had an inherent responsibility to protect the plaintiff by creating a safe environment. The coach had played competitive baseball from age 7-18 and would have had sufficient baseball experience and knowledge to know the risk associated with hitting a pitched ball from a 10 year old boy at a shortened distance in an enclosed space. He took no safety precautions to prevent what was a foreseeable accident.
In coaching situations, it is often necessary for coaches to demonstrate technique. In collision and contact sport activities, it is critical that this be done in a modified and safe manner. Commonly, adults do participate in athletic activities with children. Accidents resulting in permanent injury and disability have occurred in situations as innocent as permitting alumni participation in high school athletic practices. The size and strength difference creates a competitive mismatch and often results in injury to the younger or smaller participant. Youth sports activities are typically organized on the basis of age, weight and skill level for good reason. It simply is not a good idea to permit older, stronger and more experienced athletes to participate in activities with younger, weaker and less skilled individuals.
James Weagley is a Recreation Consultant with DJS Associates, Inc., and can be reached via email at experts@forensicDJS.com or by phone at 215-659-2010.