In Woo v. United Nations Intl. School, 2013 NY Slip Op 51167(U) (N.Y. Sup. Ct. July 11, 2013), the court dismissed a personal injury action brought by a high school baseball player.
Plaintiff Woo was injured when, as he was preparing to catch a ball thrown by plaintiff’s teammate DeRosa, the ball “glanced off the outer portion of his glove, knocked him to the ground, and struck his left eye, fracturing the socket.”
Defendants argued that plaintiff voluntarily assumed the risk of being struck by a baseball, which was “a risk incident to that inherent in playing baseball.” Plaintiff responded that “the throw was not an inherent risk, but the product of reckless or wanton conduct enabled by [defendant United Nations International School’s] neglect and failure to supervise DeRosa.”
The court agreed with defendants. It began by citing the standard for evaluating the assumption of risk in the context of sporting events:
A person who engages in a sport consents to those commonly appreciated risks which are inherent in and arise out of the nature of the sport generally and flow from such participation, such as being struck by a ball or bat in the sport of baseball. [T]he risk of being struck by a ball is a perfectly obvious and inherent risk to all participants in the sport of baseball.
While a participant in a sports contest consents to those commonly appreciated risks which are inherent in and arise out of the nature of the sport generally and flow from such participation, such as being struck by a ball or bat, participants do not assume all risks, only those inherent in the sport. However, where the dangers inherent in the sport are so serious as to justify the belief that precautions of some kind must have been taken to avert them, the risk is not assumed. Thus, it must be determined whether the conditions of the activity engaged in by the plaintiff are unique and created a dangerous condition over and above the usual dangers that are inherent in the sport.
Likewise, sport participants do not assume the risks of reckless or intentional conduct. And, an educational institution organizing a team sporting activity must exercise ordinary reasonable care to protect student athletes voluntarily participating in organized athletics from unassumed, concealed, or enhanced risks.
The court held that the plaintiff assumed the risk of the conduct resulting in the injury:
Here, [defendant United Nations International School] has demonstrated, prima facie, that plaintiff was not injured during a baseball game but during a pre-game soft-toss warm-up which, in and of itself, does not present a unique and dangerous condition over and above the usual dangers inherent in a baseball game. And while plaintiff may have anticipated only a soft toss, DeRosa’s forceful toss does not constitute a unique and dangerous condition, nor does it evince a recklessness or enhanced risk, notwithstanding the seriousness of the ensuing injury.
As defendants have demonstrated, prima facie, that plaintiff assumed the risk of injury in voluntarily participating in the soft-toss warm-up, plaintiff’s cause of action for negligent supervision must also fail as a plaintiff who freely accepts a known risk commensurately negates any duty on the part of the defendant to safeguard him or her from the risk.
The court therefore granted summary judgment to defendants and dismissed plaintiff’s complaint.