Appellate court reverses injury ruling for 'informal summer beer league'

Kelly Holleran Nov. 2, 2011, 3:51pm


The Fifth District Appellate Court on Monday tossed out a summary judgment ruling made by Madison County Circuit Judge Ann Callis in favor of a Staunton organization that was sued for the way it set up a recreational softball field.

Callis had ruled for DeCamp Junction and Jim Moultrie, who were sued by a player who claimed he broke his leg at a softball game because of the way the field was arranged.

After Callis's ruling, plaintiff Gregory Gvillo appealed, arguing that the ruling mistakenly found that a contact sports exception applied to the case. The contact sports exception states that a participant in a sporting event is only liable for injuries caused if the injury was intentional.

In Gvillo's complaint, he alleged that DeCamp Junction and its employee, Moultrie, provided an unreasonably dangerous softball playing field on which Gvillo's league played. Specifically, DeCamp Junction and Moultrie failed to follow American Softball Association rules when setting up the field, Gvillo claimed.

First base, which is where the player collided with Gvillo, should have measured 30 inches by 15 inches under ASA rules, according to Gvillo's complaint. Instead, it only measured 15 inches by 15 inches. The half of the base located in fair territory should have been white while the other half in foul territory should have been green or orange.

"The plaintiff explained in his discovery deposition that this system allows the first baseman to use the white half of the base in fair territory to make the play and leaves the green or orange half of the base in foul territory for the base runner," the opinion authored by Justice Melissa Chapman says.

DeCamp Junction and Moultrie argued that they were entitled to a summary judgment because there is a contact sports exception that applies to any contact sport games and because the ASA rules did not apply to an "informal summer beer league."

The Justices rejected DeCamp Junction's and Moultrie's arguments.

"The depositions and pleadings on file indicate that the double-base system minimizes the potential for collisions like the one that occurred between the plaintiff and Klenke while allowing base runners to run as fast as they can to reach base and allowing first basemen to make an effort to make the plays necessary to get runners out," Chapman wrote.

DeCamp Junction and Moultrie also argued that they were entitled to summary judgment because Gvillo said in testimony that he did not believe the defendants intended to harm him.

Again, the Justices disagreed.

"As the plaintiff correctly notes, he does not need to prove that the defendants acted intentionally even under the contact sports exception," Chapman wrote. "Here, we have already concluded that the contact sports exception does not apply; thus, the plaintiff only needs to prove that the defendants' actions in setting up the field were negligent and that their negligence caused his injuries."

Justices Stephen L. Spomer and Bruce D. Stewart concurred with Chapman.

The case has been remanded to Madison County Circuit Court.

Madison County case number 08-L-871

Fifth District Court of Appeals case number: 5-10-262

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