Coach told his player to slide. Then he got sued

Jake Maser, a  high school baseball player in Bound Brook, N.J., hit a ball to the centerfield gap during a game in 2016. Easy double.

But Maser figured he could get a triple out of it, so he headed to third which has now sent his coach — John Suk — to court.

Suk could see it was going to be close, so he told Maser to slide. Maser’s cleats got caught during the slide and he rolled his ankle.

So he sued his coach for negligence.

The suit against the coach — a middle school social studies teacher when he’s not coddling babies — was tossed out in February, but this week an appeals court reinstated it.

Bound Brook was up 6-to-0 in the JV game when the play occurred in the second inning.

This is not how the play-by-play should read, but lawsuits don’t usually result from trying to stretch a double into a triple:

Plaintiff made it safely past first and second base while the opposing team’s outfielder retrieved the ball. Plaintiff continued rounding toward third base.

The opposing team’s outfielder sought to throw plaintiff out at third base. Suk, believing there was going to be a “bang- bang” play at third base, instructed plaintiff to slide.

During the slide into third base, plaintiff’s cleat “dug into the dirt and the force of the slide caused him to roll over his right ankle.”

Plaintiff’s ankle injury required surgery.

It’s almost as if Red Barber is living again.

Here’s how the player sees it:

[d]uring the course of the aforedescribed baseball game, [d]efendants . . . negligently and carelessly instructed, directed or otherwise caused [p]laintiff to slide resulting in the personal and permanent injuries hereinafter described.

The appeal hinged on whether the court should apply a standard or recklessness or a standard of negligence.

“Our Supreme Court has determined that “the duty of care
applicable to participants in informal recreational sports is to
avoid the infliction of injury caused by reckless or intentional
conduct,” two appeals court judges said in an order this week, citing a similar case. Apparently, there are a fair number of lawsuits surrounding baseball and softball games in New Jersey.

In Crawn, the plaintiff, a catcher in a pickup softball game, was injured when the defendant slid into him at home plate. The Court recognized the recklessness standard “is driven by the perception that the risk of injury is a common and inherent aspect of informal sports activity.”

The Court then analyzed the public policy favoring adoption of the heightened standard of recklessness for recreational sports, including, specifically, “the promotion of vigorous participation in athletic activities,” and the avoidance of “a flood of litigation.”

The court didn’t take a position on the merits of the suit, but it signaled that it’s on the coach’s side. It just needed the lower court to actually state a reason why it was tossing the case. (See ruling)