He told a kid to slide. Then he got sued.
November 15, 2019 7:58 AM   Subscribe

While the father has a legitimate point about making sure coaches are trained, this case was genuinely ridiculous. My father had something similar happen to him - he slipped on our front walk and landed wrong, which caused his hip joint to necrotize, necessitating a hip joint replacement - and that was a clear fluke. Recklessness is a specific intentional lack of care in the law for a reason.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:17 AM on November 15, 2019 [6 favorites]

I don't know anything about the particularities of safety in baseball. I feel terrible for Suk. All I know is that sliding is a part of the game.

Something else I know is this: no article about the wacky litigiousness of American society is complete without an account of the way Americans are expected to pay for medical care and associated needs. Did Jake's parents want to punish Suk? Rob Mesar says they didn't. I don't know that, but I do believe they wanted to cover his medical bills and the needs he would have in the future because of this. In America, we look to insurance and the legal system to do that after a misadventure. So you get cases that sound absurd, and knock-on results that seem stupid, like overexplaining warning signs and the gradual disappearance of deep ends from swimming pools. More importantly, you get people traumatized in the process, like Suk.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:19 AM on November 15, 2019 [66 favorites]

Physical activity is and should be a part of most lives, which means it should be a part of most schools. All physical activity carries with it risk, even catastrophic risk. The question is how we should manage that risk. Suing the coach only makes sense if the coach was negligent; otherwise, we'd just make managing that risk untenable.

How does holding the coach accountable for telling a student to slide in a high school baseball game manage risk for anyone? What's the repercussions of holding him responsible for a student's catastrophic and unforeseen injury?
posted by Lord Chancellor at 8:46 AM on November 15, 2019 [10 favorites]

"Accidents happen" is a terrible take?

I don't think it's that simple. I think that life is inherently dangerous with the potential for crazy catastrophe always an instant away. And that can't be entirely mitigated away. Ever. There is always a chance that something terrible will happen. And if we try to entirely eliminate this chance, something perhaps more terrible will happen (ie: what happens to a generation of children who grow up having never done anything remotely dangerous? What happens to the world they will inherit? How out of touch with the reality of danger will they be?)

Do we let kids ride in cars anymore without seat belts? No. Do we let them ride bikes anymore without helmets? Good question. That seems to be the rule where I currently live. But some kid just broke his neck the other day anyway out riding on some trail. The helmet saved him from fracturing his skull, but his neck took the brunt of the impact anyway.

I don't know if you're an asshole for suing a coach who made a split-second call to tell a kid to do something he's probably told a hundred kids to do before (with no serious injuries) ... but you are making a mess of things. And yes, I'd argue that it's irrational.
posted by philip-random at 8:47 AM on November 15, 2019 [5 favorites]

Rob Mesar says. “Somebody’s got to be responsible. Nobody is!”

No, that's just it. Sometimes things happen.
posted by explosion at 8:57 AM on November 15, 2019 [47 favorites]

So the legal standard cited in the article appears to have two elements:

1) an extreme departure from ordinary care
2) in which a high degree of danger is apparent.

It's not clear to me that they were able to convince the jury on either count. Is there an apparent high degree of danger in signaling for a slide? We can see the plaintiff's attorney's trying to make that case, but it's unclear whether it stuck in the minds of the jury.

I think the first part is where they failed more obviously. It's not at all clear that Suk signaled in a way far outside of what another coach might have done. It may be the case that sliding is unreasonably dangerous at the high school level, but that wasn't the change being made here.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 8:59 AM on November 15, 2019

Any physical activity involving youth has unbelievable insurance costs, even if the whole organization is a nonprofit whose total assets wouldn't be enough to buy a nice used car. A kid who is paralyzed or otherwise suffers lifelong injury is looking, as the article says, at seven-figure medical costs. The parents don't have a choice, they have to sue. Scouts BSA (formerly the Boy Scouts of America) spends something like $30 per scout per year on insurance, at the national level.
posted by wnissen at 9:04 AM on November 15, 2019 [12 favorites]

Maybe it was just the choice of the author not to get into healthcare costs because it’s a hot button political issue, but I can’t shake the feeling that Mesar is one of those horrible competitive dads whose entire hope for life rested on his kid being good at sports. That the kid’s words were that he was sad his “parents would never see [him] play” That he’s looking for someone to sue for ruining his plan for his 14-year-old as if life would never get in the way in any capacity. Like he would’ve sued the bass player if the kid decided to quit the baseball team to start a band.
posted by Jon_Evil at 9:08 AM on November 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

[Comment and a couple of replies only directly about that comment removed. Aggressively reframing a link or a comment for the sake of dunking on it consistently makes threads worse and gets in the way of thoughtful nuanced conversation developing. Folks taking care to check that instinct will help threads on MeFi go better.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:10 AM on November 15, 2019 [18 favorites]

It’s actually a good story.

We don’t want judges unilaterally to reject novel theories of institutional (government, corporate) accountability for bad things. Under existing law the questions were good ones for a jury to reach: is sliding too dangerous to be allowed in JV baseball? Should there be a required level of safety education for JV coaches?

If the jury had gone the other — in my opinion, wrong — way, the legislature could have broadened the enforceability of risk waivers or changed the legal standard to relegalize the assumption of risk of sliding.
posted by MattD at 9:12 AM on November 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

I don't think it's implicit that the dad was banking on Junior being great at sports. Youth sports exerts a pretty big cost to the parents. You've got to get new uniforms and gear every few years, because the kids grow. They need to be transported to practices and games.

It'd be a lot easier for the parents if their kid was a bookworm or a gamer. Small consolation: getting to watch your kiddo play a game or five.

Even if the "investment" was to have him be good at the high school level, and that he'd never be good enough to go pro, it still sucks to have put so much time and money from the whole family for it to be for naught.
posted by explosion at 9:15 AM on November 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Scouts BSA (formerly the Boy Scouts of America) spends something like $30 per scout per year on insurance, at the national level.

Well that's the problem though right? Someone is paying that. And in the end who loses out, it's not wealthier families that can afford it
posted by pingu at 9:17 AM on November 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

Like he would’ve sued the bass player if the kid decided to quit the baseball team to start a band.

In fairness, our society should be discouraging bass players, just generally.
posted by Etrigan at 9:50 AM on November 15, 2019 [14 favorites]

Rob Mesar says. “Somebody’s got to be responsible. Nobody is!”

Maybe mom and dad should have raised their boy to be more self-reliant. Just because someone tells you to jump off a cliff doesn't mean you should do it, right? Right?

This whole story is ludicrous. Shit happens. Poor kid. I don't see why blame needs to be assigned. Blame baseball. Go after the inventor of sliding. You can file a lawsuit for just about anything, I guess.
posted by Chuffy at 10:05 AM on November 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

If the coach is really that incompetent, and if competence really has that much bearing on outcomes you would expect there to be more than one injured player, but there isn't. That alone tells you that luck is playing a much bigger role than people tend to allow, given their thirst for some evidence of justice in the universe. There isn't any. Sometimes shitty things happen to good people.
posted by klanawa at 10:10 AM on November 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

All those NJ state employees involved in the courtcase, the clerks, the judge, et cetera, they have salaries. And benefits. Imagine if we had a system that said "fuck it, if a kid has a freak injury, just treat it and send the state the bill." It would be a great deal cheaper.
posted by ocschwar at 10:11 AM on November 15, 2019 [15 favorites]

When I saw the headlines, I figured the kid was like 8 and was playing in one those leagues where kids take leads, steal, and slide years before the more reasonable leagues allow players to do so.

For example, my recently ex-boss is an assistant coach on his 10 year old kid's team, and this was the year they finally did sliding. They could only go feet first, and it was high fives all around if the kid got within 3 feet of the base after he stopped. There also a lot of just jumping in the air and landing straight down on their asses.

Anyway, this was a high school kid who was already going to the varsity team as freshman. He was probably playing organized ball for 8-9 years at that point, he knew how to slide.

Did the coach fuck up and call for a slide too late, or when it was unnecessary? Perhaps. But the kid got hurt (and I really feel for the kid, truly) for fucking up something he had likely done 1000 times before.
posted by sideshow at 10:13 AM on November 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm not actually clear on how Mesar hurt his ankle beyond "because of the slide". Did he slide correctly? Incorrectly? Did his ankle hit the ground too hard? Did he ram it into third base and mess it up that way? How much of the responsibility for the injury lies at the feet (unfortunate wording) of Mesar?
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:21 AM on November 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

From the article, it sounds like he had a bad hit on the bag that did the trauma to his ankle, which was further compounded by injury to the bone that caused it to necrotize.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:57 AM on November 15, 2019

Sports always involve pushing yourself in some way. There's always a chance that that can lead to injury. It's not possible to make joint injuries unavoidable. In sports that involve a lot of movement and running, like baseball (or volleyball or soccer...) joint injuries are by far the most common kind of injury.

Practice of safety and equipment is always evolving and making the games safer, but there's nothing that can be done to make any play absolutely safe. Even the best coach in the world could not guarantee a player could execute a slide safely. Injuries like this still happen (rarely) at elite levels of play with the best coaches and support staff. It's certainly reasonable to ask if oversight and precautions were sufficient in this case, but it does appear that it was, at least according to those who heard the evidence in court.

Which is a long way to say that engaging in sports accepts a certain low level of risk. When stuff happens, even with adequate levels of support, as the court found in this case, there really is no one to blame but chance.

Players don't have to play, but if they do, they have to accept that playing doesn't come with a 100% injury-free guarantee.
posted by bonehead at 12:06 PM on November 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

It's funny... I was just reading about how running quarterbacks in the NFL who played baseball get injured less because they know how to slide properly.
posted by clawsoon at 12:09 PM on November 15, 2019 [5 favorites]

My grandfather lost his leg because baseball, he wasn't the slider but the slidee. He got cleated, got gangrene and got an artificial leg. Played a lot of golf.
posted by Pembquist at 1:26 PM on November 15, 2019 [6 favorites]

I was uninsured as a teenager, EXCEPT, that is, for the insurance I had to carry for wrestling events, provided by USA Wrestling. If I had known, I'd have had a team mate crack my jaw and end up with better dentition than I have today.
posted by ocschwar at 1:36 PM on November 15, 2019

From a very 2019 point of view, it strikes me that this whole lawsuit might not exist if we had socialized health insurance sufficient to care for his injury without putting all the financial burden on some random administrators.
posted by value of information at 5:02 PM on November 15, 2019 [8 favorites]

I can certainly see that the question of "can players of age x and skill level y do maneuver z safely" being taken to the highest governing body of the sport in question having a lot of merit. Too bad this ended up in the judicial system instead.
posted by Harald74 at 10:37 PM on November 15, 2019

Friend of mine who is a an occupational therapist, says, "Any faster than you can run, any higher than you can jump, any heavier than you can lift - if it goes wrong, there is always trouble, because those are the limits evolution gave you." We keep pushing against those limits, and we should, but accepting risk is part of that process.

New Zealand has a no-fault universal injury protection system - the ACC - Accident Compensation Commission. Now you know why bungee-jumping was developed there.

So the upside, bungee-jumping. The downside, certain types of injury are not declining compared to other jurisdictions. Workplace injuries seem to be an example of this. The lack of employer liability means that there is less of an incentive to improve workplace safety.

And that is part of the problem whenever it is win/lose. There could be some good lessons to learn about how to play a game better/more safely, but if everyone retreats to their own corner hurling invective at each other, how do you make things better?
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 11:17 PM on November 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

I broke my ankle last year when I slipped six steps from the bottom of a spiral staircase and caught my foot in the balusters, on the grounds of a state park. Could I have sued the park? Probably. I did answer the questions posed to me by some folks from my insurance company who were probably looking to subrogate some of the costs of my surgery and follow-up care back to the park's insurance. I still ended up paying several thousand dollars myself for the surgery, almost a week in the hospital, transport, etc. I was lucky I was able to do so.

But I just slipped. I wasn't going fast down the stairs. It was a freak accident, and it changed my life, and them's the breaks, literally. Do not pass Go, but do remain non-weight-bearing for the better part of 3 months and in physical therapy for 6 months and stiff for life. These things happen. You could say I was unlucky to have it happen, but you could also say I was lucky to heal reasonably quickly and be able to walk again, even though I still have some pain and stiffness and PTSD and probably always will. You could also say I was lucky to learn the lessons that experience had to teach me.

I am currently suffering more from a sinus infection than I am from the long-term effects of my ankle injury. But again, I'm lucky. We'd all be lucky if we had universal health coverage and didn't have to worry that some freak accident would bankrupt us or our local schools or parks.
posted by limeonaire at 4:19 AM on November 16, 2019 [4 favorites]

How would have this been different if he didn't tell his player to slide and he ran into and injured the third baseman?
posted by lester at 3:04 PM on November 16, 2019 [3 favorites]

Requiring anything at all from coaches would have completely shut down the league I played in as a kid. We had to beg for coaches. We had to beg to get sponsors (shout out to Penny's Fish and Chips sponsors of the Pirates with the skull and crossbone logo that made it look like their food was poison!).

We had teenagers being player coaches at some points. We played on un-raked gravel infields. I got paid $1/diamond to put the lines and batter's box down before games. We had volunteer home plate umps and the base umps were just kids. We had hats and shirts but no baseball pants. We played in Jeans. We often didn't have enough helmets for bases loaded.

Deciding to introduce requirements would have shut down our little cheap ass league even though when we eventually merged with a couple of other fully funded leagues with all the sweet gear and staffing in neighboring areas we outplayed them so badly they booted us out the next year because they didn't want their kids humiliated anymore.

I imagine things are much worse in the U.S. where there is greater income inequality and regulating this could be a way to even further lock the children of the poor out of recreational opportunities.
posted by srboisvert at 12:37 PM on November 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

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