Areas of Law: Negligence in the context of recreational sports
In November 2019, the jury entered a verdict of no cause in the New Jersey Superior Court, Somerset County Vicinage finding that the Bound Brook Board of Education and a baseball coach were not liable for a player's ankle injury sustained while sliding to third base. The injury occurred during a junior varsity high school baseball game. As a result of the slide, the minor, who was in ninth grade, required multiple surgeries, which Plaintiff contended ended his athletic career. Plaintiff argued at a trial that it was dangerous for the coach to instruct Plaintiff to slide when he was running at full speed and was too close to the base at the time the signal was given.
Plaintiff initially filed suit alleging Defendants "negligently" and "carelessly" supervised the baseball game. Although summary judgment was granted to Defendants, who argued that the coach did not breach the heightened recklessness standard articulated in Crawn v. Campo, 136 N.J. 494 (1994), the Appellate Division, in an unpublished opinion, reversed the grant of summary judgment on appeal. See Mesar v. Bound Brook Board of Education, unpublished, docket number, A-2953 (App. Div. 2018). On appeal, despite Plaintiff's argument that the negligence standard should apply, the Appellate Division found that the appropriate standard of care for participants in recreational sports was the heightened recklessness standard.
The jury was tasked with determining whether Suk's actions met the standard of recklessness, defined as "an extreme departure from ordinary care in which a high degree is apparent." The jury came to a 7-1 conclusion that the baseball coach was not acting in a "reckless" manner by instructing a player to perform a routine part of baseball – sliding into a base. This case is significant in that it affirms the high bar that a plaintiff must vault in establishing recklessness in the context of a recreational sporting activity.