Baseball has been called the great American pastime. We all love an occasional trip to Turner Field to watch the Braves, and nothing can compare with family outings to minor league baseball games in smaller cities. I have nothing but pleasant memories of the spring and summer afternoons and evenings rooting for my son in years of Little League baseball.
Against this cultural background, the news story of a New Jersey lawsuit has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. According to an Associated Press report, Elizabeth Lloyd, a woman in Manchester Township, NJ, has sued an 11-year-old Little League catcher who two years ago overthrew his pitcher and accidentally struck her at a picnic table near the bullpen.
My personal reaction to this news story is that, if it is accurate, the lawyer who filed the suit showed poor judgment by filing a case could serve as material for propaganda for those who would strip the rights of people who have legitimate injury claims. It will probably appear soon in the “most ridiculous lawsuit of the week” email from a prominent “tort reform” organization.
Georgia lawmakers should note that this case would be dead on arrival in Georgia courts for at least two reasons.
First, it has long been the law in most of the United States that baseball spectators assume the risk of being hit by stray balls. There are similar holdings regarding the assumption of risk by race fans in the racetrack infield, golfers on a golf course, etc. Under current Georgia law, we have the case of Dalton v. Jones, 260 Ga.App. 791, 581 S.E.2d 360 (2003), in which Braves star Andruw Jones threw a ball that went into the stands striking a spectator. Based on a long line of prior cases, the Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment for the defendant as the baseball spectator “must be presumed to know that there is a likelihood of wild balls being thrown and landing in the grandstand or other unprotected areas.”
Second, under current Georgia law, we have a rule that a child under the age of 13 is immune from tort liability. O.C.G.A. § 51–11–6; Horton v. Hinely, 261 Ga. 863, 413 S.E.2d 199 (1992); Hatch v. O’Neill,231 Ga. 446, 448, 202 S.E.2d 44 (1973).
Creative lawyers can always come up with arguments to try to get around clear legal rules, but current Georgia law also has five fee-shifting provisions, at least a couple of which could provide sanctions for filing such a frivolous lawsuit. See, e.g., O.C.G.A. § 9-11-68 and 9-15-14.
I urge my friends in the General Assembly to consider, before you start citing this New Jersey news story as a reason to mess up Georgia law, to consider that Georgia law already provides ample protection against such a lawsuit here.