Heads up play prevents serious sports injury

Tampa Bay Ray’s Evan Langoria’s quick reflexes prevented what could have been a serious injury to a reporter during an on- field interview over the weekend. The interview was alongside the first baseline while it looks like batting practice was going on. The batter shanked the ball to the right toward the interview. As the video shows, Langoria seemed to sense the ball’s approach and snatched it out of the air barehanded! Very impressive!!

As an Alameda personal injury attorney, my first thought was ” Why were they interviewing on the field with their backs to the batter ?” “Why was there no one protecting them from behind from foul balls?” If you watch the bullpen during a game, you always see, someone with a glove standing behind the pitcher and catcher who are warming up to catch any balls that come their way.

This unsafe situation reminded me of a case I handled against the University of California. My client was a triple jumper who sustained a severe brain injury when he was struck in the head by an errant hammer throw. Hammer throwing is an ancient track and field event, wherein the participant hurls a 16 pound steel ball into the air. The world record is 284 feet. So they can be hurled a long distance. At the time of my client’s injury, the Cal coach had all of the track team out on the field practicing at the same time. The triple jumpers practiced to the side of the field, and the hammer throwers practiced in the middle of the field. There were no protections to prevent errant throws from striking other team members, nor were there any appointed look outs to warn people of errant throws. Research showed that other schools did not let the hammers throwers practice at the same time and location as the other track members. The University defended the case on the grounds that our client assumed the risk of being hit by the throw.

The doctrine of assumption of risk in California is often used to defend personal injury cases where someone is hurt while participating in a sport. The California Supreme Court has issued several major decisions in this area over the years. However, essentially, the law boils down to this. If the sports participant is injured due to a risk which is inherent in the general nature of the sport, his claim will be barred by the doctrine of the assumption of risk. For example, a baseball player who is hit by a line drive, or an errant pitch would typically be barred from recovering any damages for injuries in these cases.

However, if the defendant increases the risk which is inherent in the sport, and as a result of that conduct the defendant is injured, the assumption of risk doctrine will not prevent recovery. In my case with the triple jumper, we successfully argued that having the hammer throwers practice at the same time as the triple jumpers created a new risk to the participant which was not inherent in the sport of triple jumping. While my client may have assumed the risk that he might have hurt his leg jumping, or twisting his ankle landing during his event, he certainly did not assume the risk that a 16 pound steel ball would fly into his head while he was practicing. The court agreed with our argument and my client was permitted to successfully pursue his case against the University. Since that time, the University of California has changed its policy and no longer permits the hammer throwers to practice while others are on the field.

Sports are a lot of fun. However, serious injuries can occur if proper safety precautions are not followed. We don’t always have an Evan Longoria there to save the day. But I’m sure that reporter was glad he was there for her.

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