South Carolina Court Throws Out Claims Over Softball Game Injury

By | December 7, 2011

People playing contact sports assume the risk they will be injured, South Carolina’s Supreme Court ruled this week, upholding a lower court’s ruling that said a man injured in a softball game should have known he could be hurt.

David Cole and his son were playing in a father-son pickup softball game during a March 2004 Boy Scouts camping trip when the older Cole took over playing catcher. During the game, the court wrote, some participants became worried that the fathers were playing too aggressively, and a Scout leader even interrupted play to ask them to play more safely.

Another father, Jeff Wagner, was running to home plate to score a run when he ran into Cole, flipped into the air and landed on a bat, breaking a rib. Cole suffered a head wound, began bleeding and went into convulsions. Cole spent two days in intensive care, according to the court, and his son feared he would die.

Cole and his son subsequently sued the Boy Scouts, a church and Wagner for personal injury and emotional distress. The Coles eventually settled with the other parties, and a circuit court judge who agreed with Wagner’s arguments granted him summary judgment.

Cole appealed, and the high court heard arguments earlier this year.

“While Cole was playing a casual game in which the teams did not even keep score, he was still playing softball, which is a contact sport,” the court wrote in Monday’s opinion. “Where a person chooses to participate in a contact sport, whatever the level of play, he assumes the risks inherent in that sport.”

Cole’s attorneys had argued that Wagner broke a rule of the game by running into the catcher to try to get to home plate, a factor they argued showed his conduct was outside the scope of the game. But the court disagreed, writing that, even if Wagner did break a rule, that’s a risk that players of the game would also have to assume.

In a separate, two-sentence opinion, Justice Costa Pleicones said he agreed with the majority but wrote that he was “not convinced that a game of pick-up softball is a contact sport.”

Attorney Art Aiken said Cole’s family wasn’t ready to talk about the case, in part because they could ask the court to reconsider its opinion.

John Grantland, who represented Wagner, said his client had just gotten off work from his job at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station before the game and was wearing steel-toed boots, one of which hit Cole in the head.

“It was just a really unfortunate accident,” said Grantland, adding he was pleased with the ruling. “If he had been wearing tennis shoes, there probably would have been less of an injury.”

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