Pennsylvania Verdicts

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Boy struck by stray ball; parents argued gap in fence was hazard

Amount:

$1,621,000

Type:

Verdict-Plaintiff

State:

Pennsylvania

Venue:

Allegheny County

Court:

Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas

Injury Type(s):

head; head-headaches; head-fracture, skull;
head-closed head injury; brain-brain damage; brain-subdural hematoma; brain-traumatic brain injury; other-swelling; other-craniotomy; other-physical therapy; other-vomiting/vomition; neurological-neurological impairment; sensory/speech-vision (photophobia), impairment (photophobia);
sensory/speech-vestibular deficits; arterial/vascular-hemorrhage; mental/psychological-anxiety; mental/psychological-insomnia; mental/psychological-depression; mental/psychological-psychiatric; mental/psychological-emotional distress; mental/psychological-cognition, impairment;
gastrointestinal/digestive-gastrointestinal complications (nausea)

Case Type:

Government – Parks and Recreation; Premises Liability – Athletic Field, Failure to Warn, Negligent Repair and/or Maintenance, Dangerous Condition of Public Property

Case Name:

Zachary D. Hoffman, a minor, by Kimberly Hoffman and Douglas Hoffman, his parents and natural guardians v. Borough of Sewickley, Avonworth Athletic Association Inc., and Quaker Valley Recreation Association,
No. GD-16-004447

Date:

January 31, 2018

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Douglas Hoffman , 

Kimberly Hoffman , 

Zachary D. Hoffman (Male, 11 Years)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Alan H. Perer;
SPK – The Law Firm of Swensen & Perer;
Pittsburgh,
PA,
for
Douglas Hoffman, Kimberly Hoffman, Zachary D. Hoffman

Plaintiff Expert(s):

Gil Fried; Sports/Recreation; West Haven,
CT called by:
Alan H. Perer ■ Sue Beers; Ph.D.; Neuropsychology; Pittsburgh,
PA called by:
Alan H. Perer ■ David Bizzak; Ph.D., P.E.; Engineering; Homestead,
PA called by:
Alan H. Perer ■ Heidi Fawber; M.Ed., L.P.C., C.R.C.; Life Care Planning; Mars,
PA called by:
Alan H. Perer ■ Melvin Melnick; M.D.; Psychiatry; Pittsburgh,
PA called by:
Alan H. Perer ■ Robert Kaniecki; M.D.; Neurology; Pittsburgh,
PA called by:
Alan H. Perer ■ Timothy Burg; D.O.; Physical Medicine; Pittsburgh,
PA called by:
Alan H. Perer

Defendant(s):

Borough of Sewickley, 

Avonworth Athletic Association Inc., 

Quaker Valley Recreation Association

Defense Attorney(s):

John M. Giunta;
Thomas, Thomas & Hafer LLP;
Pittsburgh,
PA,
for
Avonworth Athletic Association Inc. ■ Jeffrey T. Criswell;
Thomas, Thomas & Hafer LLP;
Pittsburgh,
PA,
for
Avonworth Athletic Association Inc. ■ Erin J. Dolfi;
Robb Leonard Mulvihill LLP;
Pittsburgh,
PA,
for
Borough of Sewickley, Quaker Valley Recreation Association ■ Mary L. O’Rourke;
Robb Leonard Mulvihill LLP;
Pittsburgh,
PA,
for
Borough of Sewickley, Quaker Valley Recreation Association

Defendant Expert(s):

Lee Martin;
Architecture;
Dublin,
OH called by:
Erin J. Dolfi, Mary L. O’Rourke ■ Brian Woodruff;
Pediatric Neurology;
Ann Arbor,
MI called by:
John M. Giunta, Jeffrey T. Criswell, Erin J. Dolfi, Mary L. O’Rourke ■ Thomas Sawyer;
Sports/Recreation;
Bloomington,
IN called by:
John M. Giunta, Jeffrey T. Criswell ■ Michael Franzen;
Psychology/Counseling;
Pittsburgh,
PA called by:
John M. Giunta, Jeffrey T. Criswell, Erin J. Dolfi, Mary L. O’Rourke

Insurer(s):

Philadelphia Insurance Cos. for Quaker Valley Recreation Association
ProSight Inc. for Avonworth Athletic Association

Facts:

On April 13, 2015, plaintiff Zachary Hoffman, 11, was playing in a youth baseball game at Chadwick Field, in Sewickley. He played for the Avonworth Athletic Association Inc., and his team was playing against a Quaker Valley Recreation Association team. Quaker Valley and the Borough of Sewickley were responsible for maintaining the field. The visitor’s dugout on the first base line had an opening in the fence where the backstop ends and the dugout begins. Zachary asserted that the opening, which was just over 11-feet wide, was not protected by any fencing, screen, or other type of covering. The first base line was less than 18 feet from the players’ bench in the dugout. While his team was at bat, Zachary was seated in the dugout. A teammate hit a foul ball which went through the opening in the fence and struck Zachary at the left temple. He suffered brain damage. Zachary sued Avonworth Athletic Association, Quaker Valley Recreation Association, and the Borough of Sewickley, alleging that they were negligent in allowing a dangerous condition to exist on the baseball field. Quaker Valley had an agreement to indemnify Sewickley Borough. According to Zachary’s counsel, similar incidents of foul balls entering the dugout through the opening had previously occurred at Chadwick Field. In the fall of 2014, an Avonworth player had allegedly been sitting on the bench in the first-base dugout when he was struck at the chest by a foul ball. Moreover, a Quaker Valley coach testified that he had seen five to 10 foul balls enter the dugout through the opening. Zachary’s counsel asserted that, given the fall 2014 incident, Avonworth had notice that Zachary was in a zone of danger by sitting in the dugout but failed to prevent the accident. Zachary’s experts in engineering and sports/recreation testified that Chadwick Field failed to conform to National Little League safety rules and regulations, which would have prevented the injury from occurring. Quaker Valley and Sewickley were both responsible for maintaining the dugout fencing and for warning visiting teams about the potential for foul balls to enter the dugout, but they had failed to do this, the experts concluded. According to the experts, although the Avonworth and Quaker Valley’s coaches knew of the fall 2014 incident and lack of adequate fencing, they failed to provide sufficient warning about the potential for foul balls to enter the dugout and did not even make sure that players sat far enough down the bench so that they would not be hit by a ball. Quaker Valley and Sewickley’s expert in architecture maintained that the visiting-team dugout at Chadwick Field met applicable standards and regulations for screening across the front of the dugout. According to the expert, protective fences at the field were continuous up to the tops of the roof enclosures of the player-seating areas, and across the fronts of the enclosures, and beyond the ends of the player-seating area at both the north and south ends of the first-base seating area. Avonworth’s counsel denied that the fall 2014 incident placed Avonworth on notice. A softly hit fly ball had come down and struck the player’s chest; the player was not injured, he did not require medical attention, and he was not taken out of the game. Avonworth’s expert in sports/recreation opined that Avonworth’s actions did not fall below the standards of care that were expected of youth-league coaches.

Injury:

When he was struck by the ball, Zachary experienced severe pain, followed by nausea and a slightly altered mental state. He was immediately taken to a hospital, where he began vomiting. A CT scan showed a fractured skull, a traumatic intracerebral hemorrhage, and a subdural hematoma. He was immediately transferred to a children’s hospital, where had a left temporal craniotomy to evacuate the hematoma. After Zachary was discharged he began treating with a neurologist and a family-medicine physician for daily headaches and numerous severe headaches. He was prescribed several medications and nerve-block injections to the head, without success, and he was seen in the emergency room on numerous occasions for his headaches. He continuously treated at different brain-injury, sports-medicine, and pediatric facilities, and had courses of vestibular and physical therapies. Zachary’s headaches allegedly resulted in depression, insomnia, irritability, inability to concentrate and focus, dizziness, and sensitivity to light and sound. According to his counsel, Zachary has impulsive behavior and an inability to control his emotions and aggression. According to Zachary’s physicians, he has had numerous incidents of uncontrollable behavior, including physical aggressions. At the time of trial, Zachary continued to treat with a psychiatrist and an osteopathic physician. Due to the injury, Zachary missed the remainder of the sixth grade and had substantial absences in seventh grade. For the 2016-2017 school year, Zachary was transferred to a specialized school. He was able to return to a public school the following year, but requires a much more comprehensive individualized education plan than the one he had been on before the accident. According to Zachary’s counsel, he frequently misses school because of difficulty with his sleep and daily headaches, especially in the early morning. His headaches and neurocognitive deficits cause Zachary difficulty remaining on tasks and doing his homework. His counsel maintained that he requires extra time, attention, and instruction in order to perform such functions. Zachary’s physicians, including his neurologist, neuropsychologist, psychiatrist, and physiatrist all discussed his condition and related it to being struck by the baseball. According to his physicians, Zachary, who continues to experience headaches, will need interventions and substantial future medical treatment on a continuing basis to deal with the neurobehavioral effects of his traumatic brain injury. Zachary sought to recover $100,341.13 in stipulated past medical costs and $1,481,800 in future medical costs. Zachary’s parents and grandparents testified about the way he was before and after the accident. Zachary did not testify. He further sought damages for past and future pain and suffering. The defense counsel’s expert in psychology, who examined Zachary, detailed that his behavioral problems occur solely at home with his parents, and that the behavioral issues do not take place in school or in any other setting outside the home. The expert questioned whether Zachary’s issues are related to his brain injury or to the relationship with his parents. The defense’s expert in pediatric neurology, who performed a records review, noted that following the accident, Zachary had sustained head traumas in seven other incidents. This included being struck in the head by a basketball on two occasions, and being involved in a vehicle accident, in which he struck the back of a seat with his head. The expert therefore questioned whether Zachary’s ongoing headaches were related to the baseball accident or to the subsequent incidents. Following closing arguments, Avonworth entered a settlement with Zachary for a confidential amount. The jury was not informed of the settlement.

Result:

The jury found that the borough of Sewickley was 40 percent liable, Quaker Valley was 50 percent liable, and Avonworth was 10 percent liable. Zachary was determined to receive $1,621,000. After addition of the stipulated medical expenses, damages totaled $1,721,341.13.

Zachary D. Hoffman: $1,055,000 Personal Injury: Future Medical Cost; $566,000 Personal Injury: past and future pain and suffering, embarrassment and humiliation, and loss of enjoyment of life

Actual Award:

$1,721,341.13

Trial Information:

Judge:

Patrick Connelly

Trial Length:

8
 days

Editor’s Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiffs’ counsel and Avonworth Athletic Association’s counsel. Additional information was gleaned from court documents. The remaining defendants’ counsel did not respond to the reporter’s phone calls.