Published: Thursday, May 17, 2007
High court: Howland district isn't liable for player's injuries
The only dissenting vote was cast by Justice Paul Pfeifer.
By MICHELE C. HLADIK
COLUMBUS The Howland school district is not liable for injuries suffered by one of its freshman baseball players during an impromptu batting practice, says an Ohio Supreme Court decision.
"A political subdivision is immune from liability if the injury complained of resulted from an individual employees' exercise of judgment or discretion in determining whether to acquire or how to use equipment or facilities unless the judgment or discretion was exercised with malicious purpose, in bad faith or in a wanton or reckless manor because a political subdivision can act only through its employees," wrote Justice Terrence O'Donnell in the high court's 6-1 decision, which was released Wednesday.
The case stems from an accident, which left Jeffrey Elston seriously injured while he was a freshman baseball player at Howland High School in April 2002.
Elston was reportedly soft pitching to a teammate during a self-initiated batting practice when a ball ricocheted off the L-screen, which is designed to protect pitchers during batting practice, and hit Elston in the head.
Elston's parents filed suit in 2003 against the school district in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court. The parents claimed the baseball coach was negligent in his supervision and teaching in the use of equipment
The trial court found in favor of the district, but the 11th District Court of Appeals reversed the decision in 2005 and remanded the case to the trial court for another look.
The case was then brought before the Supreme Court.
Writing for majority opinion
"The school district asserts that Coach [Thomas] Eschman exercised his judgment and discretion as a baseball coach by instructing his players on how to use the batting cage, the protective L-screen, and other facilities, and maintains that the statute provides it with immunity," wrote Justice O'Donnell for the majority opinion.
Further, "Elston's injury resulted from the judgment or discretion of the coach in determining how to use equipment or facilities. No claim is presented suggesting reckless conduct. Thus, the school district successfully asserted this defense in this instance," Justice O'Donnell added.
Justice Paul Pfeifer cast the lone dissenting vote.
"Why should the state be different from every other entity or person in the state?" Justice Pfeifer questioned, "especially when our state Constitution guarantees that 'every person ... shall have remedy by due course of law.' When sued for negligence, every other entity or person in the state has to defend itself when a plaintiff can show a duty, a breach of that duty, that the breach was the proximate cause of harm, and damages ... . In this case, it would be exceedingly difficult to prove that a duty was breached.
"Alas, we will never know because, with the decision today, the court has stated: 'The Constitution be damned, we will not allow the King or any person exercising discretion on behalf of the King to be sued.'"