PDP attorney Jason W. Crotty successfully obtained a defense verdict in favor of the Town of Hudson after a two-day jury trial in Worcester Superior Court held before Judge Daniel M. Wrenn. The case arose out of an injury that occurred during a high school baseball game. The plaintiff, who was a high school senior, suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee while warming up on the visitor’s bullpen pitcher’s mound. At the time of the accident, the plaintiff was a starting pitcher/outfielder for the Milford High School varsity baseball team, which was playing a night game against the Hudson High School team. During the third or fourth inning, the starting pitcher began to struggle, so the Milford coach instructed the plaintiff to warm up in the bullpen and prepare to enter the game as a relief pitcher. The game started at 7:00 p.m. and the plaintiff began to warm up in the bullpen around 7:45 p.m., just prior sunset. The plaintiff testified that the bullpen pitching mound was uneven and poorly maintained. Because of this, the plaintiff positioned himself on the right side of the mound, as opposed to staying in the middle of the pitching rubber. The plaintiff testified that he threw four or five pitches without incident. On the next pitch, during his follow through, his foot came into contact with the wooden timber that was supporting the bullpen. He testified that this caused him to stumble, fall and land unevenly on his left knee.
The plaintiff’s knee injury required multiple surgeries that caused him to miss a portion of his freshman year college baseball season. In total, the plaintiff had over $42,000 in documented medical expenses. In his lawsuit, the plaintiff claimed: 1) that the bullpen area was defectively designed, in that the area had insufficient lighting; 2) wooden timbers should not have been used in the construction of the bullpen and; 3) that the Town improperly maintained the bullpen mound itself.
At trial, PDP was successful in arguing that the Judge should restrict the plaintiff’s right to recovery because the Town was immune from suit on the negligent design theory under the “discretionary function” exception of the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, M.G.L. c. 258, § 10(b). By finding that the Town was immune from any claim of negligent design of the bullpen, the Court instructed the jury that they could only consider the plaintiff’s “negligent maintenance” theory in determining liability. The jury agreed with PDP’s assessment that the plaintiff’s claim of negligent maintenance of the bullpen was very weak and quickly returned a verdict in favor of the Town, concluding that the Town was not negligent.
Published in PDP’s Developments in Municipal Law Fall 2016 Newsletter.