Coach told his player to slide. Then he got sued

Jake Maser, a  high school baseball player in Bound Brook, N.J., hit a ball to the centerfield gap during a game in 2016. Easy double.

But Maser figured he could get a triple out of it, so he headed to third which has now sent his coach — John Suk — to court.

Suk could see it was going to be close, so he told Maser to slide. Maser’s cleats got caught during the slide and he rolled his ankle.

So he sued his coach for negligence.

The suit against the coach — a middle school social studies teacher when he’s not coddling babies — was tossed out in February, but this week an appeals court reinstated it.

Bound Brook was up 6-to-0 in the JV game when the play occurred in the second inning.

This is not how the play-by-play should read, but lawsuits don’t usually result from trying to stretch a double into a triple:

Plaintiff made it safely past first and second base while the opposing team’s outfielder retrieved the ball. Plaintiff continued rounding toward third base.

The opposing team’s outfielder sought to throw plaintiff out at third base. Suk, believing there was going to be a “bang- bang” play at third base, instructed plaintiff to slide.

During the slide into third base, plaintiff’s cleat “dug into the dirt and the force of the slide caused him to roll over his right ankle.”

Plaintiff’s ankle injury required surgery.

It’s almost as if Red Barber is living again.

Here’s how the player sees it:

[d]uring the course of the aforedescribed baseball game, [d]efendants . . . negligently and carelessly instructed, directed or otherwise caused [p]laintiff to slide resulting in the personal and permanent injuries hereinafter described.

The appeal hinged on whether the court should apply a standard or recklessness or a standard of negligence.

“Our Supreme Court has determined that “the duty of care
applicable to participants in informal recreational sports is to
avoid the infliction of injury caused by reckless or intentional
conduct,” two appeals court judges said in an order this week, citing a similar case. Apparently, there are a fair number of lawsuits surrounding baseball and softball games in New Jersey.

In Crawn, the plaintiff, a catcher in a pickup softball game, was injured when the defendant slid into him at home plate. The Court recognized the recklessness standard “is driven by the perception that the risk of injury is a common and inherent aspect of informal sports activity.”

The Court then analyzed the public policy favoring adoption of the heightened standard of recklessness for recreational sports, including, specifically, “the promotion of vigorous participation in athletic activities,” and the avoidance of “a flood of litigation.”

The court didn’t take a position on the merits of the suit, but it signaled that it’s on the coach’s side. It just needed the lower court to actually state a reason why it was tossing the case. (See ruling)

  • Learn how to slide, kid.

  • BJ

    So…. If the player had injured the 3rd baseman the third baseman could probably sue the coach (and the player that slid into him). But the player that couldn’t preform a slide correctly will not be able to sue coach that told him to slide, at least once the lower court properly throws it out.

    Unless the coach failed to instruct them on how to slide – or instructed in a way that would cause harm, and even then I would find it hard to think this way, I don’t think the parents or player have much to stand on.

    • boB from WA

      Given the fact the runner/suer tried to gain an extra base, he knew the risks of there being a close play. And yes, he should have known how to slide (or at least gone in head first). IMO this case really doesn’t have a leg (or ankle) to stand on.

      • BJ

        The Appellate Court pretty much says as much in the ruling. But that the lower courted didn’t say it correctly so that the plaintiff didn’t have a chance to argue that they had a case.

  • Carolie

    I wonder if this was forced by insurance company that had to pay for the surgery.

    • That’s what I was wondering too, although typically the insurance company would’ve been a party to the suit in some capacity. And they like to settle rather than sue.

    • boB from WA

      I say blame the parents in this one…

      • Jersey’s gotta Jersey.

      • Mike Worcester

        My mind was picturing a set of parents who were now feeling their child’s D-1 scholarship or high draft pick being scuttled by the play. And they had to blame someone. Last time I checked, fate, chance, and providence can’t be sued in district court.

        • L. Foonimin

          these kinds of situations are why 99.9% of lawyers give the rest a bad name

  • KTN

    I’ve spent my life coaching, and as I tell all my athletes and their parents, ours is an inherently dangerous sport – we try to mitigate as much as possible, but man, things happen.
    Were I to do it over, I would chose to coach at an orphanage.

  • jon

    So did the kid make it to third?

    • Erik Petersen

      this is a relevant question. if he made it to third, the coaches judgment is affirmed

  • wjc

    Between this kind of stuff and dealing with parents who want their kid to get more playing time or think you are coaching badly, why would anyone want to coach?

    • BJ

      So just figured out Soccer coaching time this week ~14.5 hours. 3 – 1.5 hour practices, 1 – 45 minute practice, 1- 1.25 hour scrimmage, 15 minute team meeting, 6 hours prep for all that over course of the week. Last night 2 hours crafting email about this weekends tournament.

      I’ll fret about the lineup for Saturday morning game a little today but think mostly that’s done. Packing after work for tournament, but mostly prepared that already just need to make sure hat, and score book are ready. Game bag is good.

      Hopefully we can meet the challenges ahead.

      I bet that I have at least 4 kids not show up at the time I said in the email I spent 2 hours working on last night. on team of 17 players only 3 times in 50 practices this winter have I have more 12 players show up. Only 6 times more than 10.

      • wjc

        Why? For god’s sake, why?

        You didn’t mention any parent interactions because Jan is not playing enough or you are playing Pat on defense, when EVERYBODY can see that Pat should be a striker.

        Playing and coaching team sports used to have good times and bad, but it was generally fun. Now, it seems like the coaches are often getting abused, kids aren’t really interested but mom and dad are pushing them, and the kids who are interested are turned off by some of the parental pressure.

        Ick!

        • BJ

          We haven’t had a game yet. I expect the playing time and playing position conversations – just after this weekend.

        • BJ

          Oh.. I’m also on the board for the Soccer Club and in charge of Uniforms for the 750+ kids (that’s a H E double hockey stick I wish on no one). I just got my Referee license and will ref some games coming up in a few weeks. I think I have a problem.

          • NG

            LOL! Yes. Yes, you may. But, there are worse habits.

        • John

          you say “used to have good times.” . . I’m 38. Over 20 years ago (I know, because I was in high school), my little brother was umping little league games and throwing both parents and coaches out with some regularity due to terrible behavior. He only had to get the off-duty cop who was their to watch his own kid play involved once.

          How far back do we need to go?

          • wjc

            I’m 62. I had fun playing ball as a kid in the mid- to late- 60’s. Intramural softball in college was fun too, unless some people had higher priorities than not spilling the beer.

            I don’t remember any parents going after the coaches when I was in little league. My teams were usually not all that great, but we enjoyed ourselves. The coaches tried to help us improve our skills, in the limited time available to them. I don’t know, we just had fun and tried as hard as we could, even when our skills were wanting.

  • BReynolds33

    This is a major point of discussion in our city rec softball league. I’m not going to tell a kid to slide. I’m not going to teach them to slide. Not because I don’t want to get sued (I really don’t though), but because I don’t want them to get hurt.

    Before anyone jumps on me… I teach them to concede if it is close. Take the out. It’ll be OK. No one gets hurt, everyone walks away intact. I also don’t try to get my kids an extra base if it is going to be close.

    • Erik Petersen

      This is very reasonable. I play 35+ ball. I don’t slide and I don’t collide, I do peel off the force at second, I don’t try to have the guy throw around me. If they get me they get me (and the guy at first), I got to go to work in the morning.

  • Erik Petersen

    Obviously, suit should be tossed because minors and their parents take on an assumption of risk, but also, secondarily…

    The assertion of coaching negligence can be refuted by virtue of the fact that that the pop up slide IS a safety maneuver. It’s the best way to decelerate and avoid collision with fielder. Cuz you didn’t execute it doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.

    I do imagine this kid had to have been wearing metal spikes, which will stick a little more than plastic cleats.