Stumbling around the base path Courtroom collision: Softball injury suit chills enthusiasm for game.

February 13, 1996

IT MAY NOT BE a major league contract, but a Baltimore County woman is seeking $300,000 for playing a single ballgame. It's the kind of demand that could put a good scare into many a recreational softball player and sponsor and even the umpire, with a potentially greater threat to "the game" than any big-league strike.

The plaintiff filed suit for the six-figure compensation after breaking her collarbone in a collision at second base during a Parkville YMCA mixed-gender game in 1994. She sued the "Y" and the male base runner who ran into her. The YMCA then sued the male player's team manager, the game umpire and the graphics firm that printed the team's T-shirts.

The lawsuit filed by Jacquelynne Stafford against Kevin Greenway alleges intentional battery for failing to slide into second base, in accordance with game rules. Mr. Greenway, a last-minute fill-in player, was ejected from the game by Umpire Donald Jackson, but claimed that he tripped when attempting to slide and collided with second baseman Stafford.

A lineup of lawyers will go to the plate in this contest, even if most of the principals don't have the money to play. In the absence of further details, however, this type of lawsuit looks like a bad call from all sides.

It disregards the obvious risks of playing team sports, and the accidents and injuries that frequently happen even when everyone fully observes all the rules. These painful mishaps may seem more remote in casual, recreational league games, but that's just not the case.

The legal action has already frightened off several defendants from further softball activity, including the T-shirt seller. The YMCA will no doubt redouble its efforts to obtain lengthy waivers from all parties in its leagues. Insurance rates will rise as leagues and teams and individual participants are forced to acquire all manner of medical and liability coverage. Sponsors will be wary of providing even nominal support. Volunteers will be scarce.

It's unlikely that a single lawsuit, unproven and unresolved, will prompt such sweeping changes. But it is yet another example of litigation that tries to make everyone culpable for any injury, and of an increasingly defensive society in reaction. It's the kind of legal action we'd like to see tossed out of the game.

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