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Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Hit by foul ball in dugout, high school baseball player sees verdict overturned

By Dee Thompson | Jun 14, 2017

General court 06

DES MOINES, Iowa (Legal Newsline) – Six years after getting hit in the head with a foul ball at a high school baseball game, Spencer Ludman’s case is headed toward a new trial by the Iowa Supreme Court on June 2.

In June 2011, Ludman was in the visitor's dugout when a foul ball struck him in the head, knocking him unconscious. He had just graduated from high school but was playing for Muscatine High School at a baseball field on the grounds of Davenport Assumption High School. 

After the injury, Ludman was airlifted to a hospital where, after a few days in ICU, he was diagnosed with brain damage due to a crack in his skull. He endured a lengthy recovery process from the brain injury, the opinion states.

The foul ball that struck Ludman “entered the south opening of the dugout and struck him in the head,” according to the court’s opinion.

Ludman filed a premises liability lawsuit against the high school in April 2013. The suit stated that the visitor’s dugout was defective in that there was no protective screen to shield the players from foul balls and the visitor’s dugout was too close to home plate.

The school responded by filing a motion for summary judgment arguing that Ludman assumed the risk of injury by playing baseball. The motion was unsuccessful. Assumption filed a second summary judgment motion, “arguing that it was entitled to summary judgment under the inherent-risk doctrine and on the basis that there are no accepted standards for high school baseball dugouts,” according to the court opinion.

In June 2015, a jury trial was held. The jury returned a verdict stating the high school was negligent and the cause of Ludman’s injuries. The school appealed the verdict.

Writing for the court, Justice David Wiggins concluded, “We find the district court abused its discretion in not allowing the Assumption to present evidence of custom. We further find the district court erred when it failed to instruct the jury on the player’s failure to maintain a proper lookout. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the district court and remand the case to the district court for a new trial.”

Another jury will be asked to consider whether Ludman maintained a proper lookout and whether or not the school was at fault and liable for his brain injury.

The school was represented by Thomas M. Boes of Bradshaw, Fowler, Proctor & Fairgrave P.C. in Des Moines.

Ludman and his parents are represented by Steven J. Crowley and Edward Prill of Crowley, Bünger & Prill, Burlington.

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