Strike!

Can a community college be sued when a pitcher on its baseball team intentionally hits an opposing player in the head with a baseball?

Sure.

Can the school be held liable?

No, not according to the California Supreme Court.

Avila was beaned with a baseball during a game. He believed that the pitch was thrown in retaliation for an earlier pitch thrown by one of his teammates that hit a teammate of the pitcher.

Avila sued several folks, including the community college of the pitcher. He argued that that the college was negligent by “(1) conducting the game at all; (2) failing to control [its] pitcher; (3) failing to provide umpires to supervise and control the game; and (4) failing to provide medical care.” ( Note: In California “[u]niversities ordinarily are not vicariously liable for the actions of their student-athletes during competition.” Therefore, there was no claim advanced on that point.)

The community college argued that it owed no duty to Avila, and the California Supreme Court agreed.

On Avila’s first point, the Court held that “the only consequence of the District’s hosting the game was that it exposed Avila, who chose to participate, to the ordinary inherent risks of the sport of baseball. Nothing about the bare fact of the District’s hosting the game enhanced those ordinary risks ….”

On the “control of the pitcher” argument, the Court said “[i]t is one thing for an umpire to punish a pitcher who hits a batter by ejecting him from the game, or for a league to suspend the pitcher; it is quite another for tort law to chill any pitcher from throwing inside, i.e., close to the batter’s body-a permissible and essential part of the sport-for fear of a suit over an errant pitch. For better or worse, being intentionally thrown at is a fundamental part and inherent risk of the sport of baseball. It is not the function of tort law to police such conduct.”

Concerning umpires, the Court said that “provision of umpires might might-have reduced the risk of a retaliatory beanball, Avila has alleged no facts supporting imposition of a duty on the District to reduce that risk.”

Finally, on the failure to supply medical attention claim, the Court found that it failed on the alleged facts.

The case is Avila v. Community College of Citrus Grove, No. S119575 (April 6, 2006).

Thanks to the California Appellate Report for bringing it to my attention.