$1.7M awarded to boy struck in head by foul ball in Sewickley
Improperly kept ballfields for Little League players can lead to lasting injuries and liability for the groups maintaining those areas.
That's one message sent by an Allegheny County Common Pleas jury that Jan. 30 awarded $1.7 million to a 14-year-old boy who suffers from cognitive and behavioral issues as the result of a baseball striking him on the temple at Chadwick Field in Sewickley.
Kimberly and Douglas Hoffman won the lawsuit on behalf of their son against Sewickley Borough, and the Avonworth and Quaker Valley athletic associations. The lawsuit argued that the dugout wasn't fenced properly — leading to the injury.
“I wonder how many other teams are lax in orientation and training,” said Alan Perer of Swensen & Perer, attorney for the family. “Maybe this case will make it safer for other teams.”
He noted that other fields in the Avonworth and Bell Acres area were “perfectly screened,” but Chadwick Field was not.
The defendants could appeal the verdict.
Erin Dolfi of the law firm Robb Leonard Mulvihill did not return a call seeking comment Friday. She represents Sewickley Borough and the Quaker Valley Recreation Association. Sewickley Borough Manager Kevin Flannery did not return a call seeking comment.
According to the 2016 lawsuit, Zachary Hoffman, then 11, and his Avonworth team were playing a game against a Quaker Valley Recreation Association team. An open area near the first base line dugout did not have any barrier, such as fencing, the lawsuit says, as is customary.
“One thing that came out of this trial that is really important is it's the obligation of the charter baseball team's association to make sure that all the volunteers are aware of the rules,” Perer said.
The lawsuit says Sewickley Borough was negligent in failing to install a fence, screening or other barrier between the backstop and dugout fences, and that the athletic associations “had a duty to ensure the safety of the field.”
The lawsuit says the boy suffered a fractured skull, bleeding on the brain, and permanent brain damage.
“This money will help him get the best treatment that he needs,” Perer said.
The family, through their attorney, declined to comment.
Kimberly Palmiero is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.