Litigation and Little League

Little League“Everyone is looking for a scholarship, and everyone is looking for a lawsuit.” 

Those were the words of high school coach whom I recently interviewed concerning changes in coaching high school athletics.  Although that statement might seem a bit cynical, consider Rick Reilly’s recent column, “A Tale of Two Little Leaguers” on ESPN.com.  Reilly compares the stories of two Little League players who are injured.  Following their respective injuries, one player learned to be the scorekeeper for his team, while the other’s parent filed a lawsuit.  With respect to the parent who filed suit, Reilly wrote as follows:

A little more than five years ago her 12-year-old son, Martin, got a hit and the first-base coach waved him on to second. The problem was, Martin did not generally get many doubles. In fact, he’d never slid in a game before. So when he got to second, he slid clumsily, wrenching his knee, ripping his ACL and tearing his meniscus.

So what did his mom do?

She sued.

She sued the manager. She sued the first-base coach. She sued the local Little League. She sued Little League Baseball, Incorporated. She sued everybody but the kid who cuts the outfield.

She said the manager — Leigh Bernstein — hadn’t taught Martin the proper way to slide. (The coach said he had.) She said the local Little League had the wrong kind of bases — Soft Touch detachable bases. (But the bases were on Little League’s approved list of bases. They detach when you hit them with too much force.) She said it was everybody’s fault but Martin’s.

And just over two weeks ago, she settled for $125,000.

Click here for Reilly’s column in its entirety.

Coaches are facing increasing pressure from parents, and moreover, they face increasing liability.  The question is, when will coaches – especially volunteers at the Little League level – decide that coaching isn’t worth the risk?  Does a Little League coach need to keep a detailed log of the various drills covered in practice in the case of a lawsuit?  Must a Little League coach assume that a player has no baseball skills and teach everything from throwing, catching and sliding – if not for his team’s benefit, to protect him or herself?

Better risk management techniques may not lead to better baseball and they may not encourage people to assume the inherent liability in coaching.  They certainly won’t lead to more fun.  But these protective measures may become part of youth sports regardless.

Thanks to Dan Schwartz, publisher of the Connecticut Employment Law Blog, for the link to Rick Reilly’s story.

Comments

  1. Thanks for the reference. Nice article. Really sad commentary on society when the parents who are trying to help other parents’ kids get dragged into lawsuits….

  2. forza azzuri says:

    Last year I took a required coaching certification from the CIAC. They asked how many coaches in the room where soccer coaches. A handfull raised their hands. He told us we were the worst offenders of this type of activity. He asked us, how many of us put their starting forward in the goal when they are playing a team that they can absolutely destroy. We all raised our hands. He told us a true story of how the school and coach were sued by the parents of a girl who was put in goal in such a game. She dove, hit her head on the post and got a concussion. She was never taught the proper diving technique, kicking technique, etc of a goalie. They got money. The instructor told us that by the end of the first class we would be asking ourselves, “do we really want to coach?”. He was absolutely right. There are a million reasons not to coach, and regretfully, only a handful of reasons to coach anymore. And, it’s getting worse. It won’t stop me from coaching, but I can say that I am much more aware of the potential problems.

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  4. Monty Cradduck says:

    In reference to the parents suing “everyone”. It’s truly a shame when adults lose perspective and worse yet need someone else to blame. I’m currently trying to find some advice on how to stop a Little League Board of Directors from “losing focus”. They’ve become a clique of friends who seem to believe “they are the league” and are above reproach. They have by passed to annual elections with out having a vote but want to utilize the same rules they have ignored to keep others from joining the Board or even voting. Anyone have any experience with things like this? I would appreciate any posotive input.

    Thank you,
    Monty

Trackbacks

  1. […] Stinson Case, Coaches Liability Coaches’ liability is a hot topic in sports law, from Little League to high school football.  Connecticut Sports Law received two interesting comments on the case of […]

  2. […] isn’t the first time that an incident at a Little League game has resulted in litigation.  In August 2009, I wrote about a suit filed by the mother of a player who was injured sliding into s….  The player’s  mother sued the manager and the league, alleging that her son was properly […]

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