Thursday, August 28, 2003
Community College Not Immune From Ballplayer’s Suit, C.A. Says
By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer
A community college is not immune from liability in a negligence action by a rival baseball player struck in the head by one of its pitchers during a game, this district’s Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
A divided panel of Div. Five ruled that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Conrad R. Aragon erred in sustaining without leave to amend the demurrer of Citrus Community College District to the suit brought by Jose Luis Avila. Aragon ruled Citrus was immune under Government Code Sec. 831.7.
Avila, playing for Rio Hondo Community College, was struck by a pitch that broke his batting helmet. He claimed the pitch was in retaliation for one that struck a Citrus player and he filed a suit against both schools.
Justice Orville A. Armstrong said Sec. 831.7, which provides that “[n]either a public entity nor a public employee is liable to any person who participates in a hazardous recreational activity...for any damage or injury to property or persons arising out of that hazardous recreational activity,” was inapplicable. He noted that the Court of Appeal held in Acosta v. Los Angeles Unified School Dist. (1995) 31 Cal.App.4th 471 that extracurricular athletic activities sponsored and supervised by high schools are not hazardous recreational activities under the statute and schools can be sued for conducting them negligently.
Case Found No Duty
The justice rejected the college’s reliance on Ochoa v. California State University (1999) 72 Cal.App.4th 1300, which found that colleges and universities have no duty to supervise the activities of their adult students.
“We believe that extending section 831.7 immunity to the facts alleged here would...go well beyond the intent of the Legislature and constitute an unwarranted change in California tort law.”
Ochoa, he observed, involved “a college or university’s in loco parentis duty to supervise student drinking and student dormitories, not the facts here.” Though the brawl involved in that case began at a student soccer game, the game was not organized or supervised by the school, but was organized by a student group and supervised by the group’s employees, the justice said.
“In contrast, this case involves allegations that the game was school sponsored and school supervised, and that those supervisors failed to supervise properly or to provide medical assistance to a student injured in the game,” Armstrong wrote. Citing Tan v. Goddard (1993) 13 Cal.App.4th 1528, the justice explained that the “long-standing rule relevant to those facts is that ‘coaches and instructors owe a duty of due care to persons in their charge.’”
“We see nothing in section 831.7 which constitutes anything like an express declaration or necessary implication...that the Legislature wished to change that rule.”
Justice Richard M. Mosk concurred, but Justice Margaret Grignon dissented.
“Under the clear and unambiguous language of the immunity statute, Citrus College is a public entity that is immune from liability to plaintiff for the personal injuries he suffered arising out of the intercollegiate baseball game that took place on the property of Citrus College,” she declared.
The dissenting justice reasoned:
“Ordinarily, an unambiguous statute does not need to be construed by resort to public policy or legislative history. Plaintiff alleges that Citrus College was negligent for failing to summon or provide medical care, failing to provide umpires or other supervisory personnel, failing to supervise and control the game, failing to provide adequate safety equipment, and failing to train managers and trainers to provide medical care to injured players. But plaintiff was at the game with his own managers, coaches, and trainers, and they elected not to obtain medical care for plaintiff, even though he requested care from them. It is common knowledge that an injured athlete is cared for by his or her own team without interference from the opposing team. It seems particularly inappropriate under these circumstances to impose liability on Citrus College for any passive neglect. This is precisely the kind of situation for which the immunity was enacted.”
The case is Avila v. Citrus Community College District, B158572.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company