Illinois Appellate Court Confirms That Softball is a Contact Sport – Gvillo v. DeCamp Junction

In order for a case to be dismissed on summary judgment, there needs to be a clear and obvious outcome that precludes the need to hold a jury trial. A judge may grant a motion for summary judgment if there is only one possible conclusion a jury could find. The idea is that if it is already obvious which way the jury will find, then there does not need to be a jury trial. However, if there are any unresolved issues of fact which remain to be decided upon, then the civil suit needs to proceed to trial.

The Illinois Appellate court recently reviewed a trial judge’s dismissal of a personal injury lawsuit after granting summary judgment in favor of the defense; Gregory Gvillo v. DeCamp Junction, 2011 IL App. (5th) 100262 (October 31, 2011). The defendants claimed that the plaintiff’s claim was precluded under the contract sports exception, whereas the plaintiff contended that it did not apply based on the defendants willful and wanton misconduct. While the appellate court agreed with the defendants, it still found that the defendants were not entitled to summary judgment because a genuine issue of fact remained unresolved.

Gvillo was filed after Gregory Gvillo suffered an ankle fracture and nerve injury during a softball game. Gvillo was playing first base at the time of his softball injury when Aron Klenke was running towards first base when he collided with Gvillo. Gvillo filed a personal injury lawsuit against DeCamp Junction, Inc. and Jim Moultrie for not setting the softball field up according to Amateur Softball Association (ASA) guidelines. Gvillo also filed a claim against Klenke for his role in Gvillo’s personal injury.

The trial judge dismissed Gvillo’s claims after finding that the contact sports doctrine applied. Under this doctrine, a contact sport participant is not liable to other players for injuries that may occur during the course of ordinary negligence. One of the reasons given for the rule is that physical contact between players is part of contact sports and injuries from such contact are to be anticipated as one of its risks. Karas v. Strevell, 227 Ill.2d 440 (2008). The trial judge obviously felt that Klenke’s behavior towards Gvillo could be classified as ordinary negligence and therefore Klenke could not be found liable for Gvillo’s injury.

However, there is an exception to the contract sports doctrine: a contact sports participant is liable for injuries caused by willful and wanton or intentional misconduct. According to Pfister v. Shusta, participants in contact sports owe other participants a “duty to refrain from willful and wanton or intentional misconduct” (1967 Ill.2d at 420). In his deposition, Gvillo stated that the runner intentionally ran into him, a statement which Klenke himself denied. At the time of the summary judgment, neither party agreed as to what had actually happened.

Gvillo had also filed claims against the softball field itself, DeCamp Junction, Inc., and its employee, Jim Moultrie, for violating three ASA rules:

  • the first base must be a double-base measuring 30 inches by 15 inches,
  • half of the base should be white and located in fair territory, while the other half should be green or orange and located in foul territory, and
  • a running lane between home plate and first base, i.e. painting a line parallel to the baseline three feet away from the baseline in foul territory.

According to Gvillo’s testimony, the ASA rules were designed to prevent collisions between batters and first basemen. Under the ASA rules, the first baseman was able to use the white half of the base, located in fair territory, to make a play. That left the green or orange portion of the base for the runner to use when running to the first base. However, instead of complying with the ASA safety requirements, DeCamp Junction only provided a single 15-inch by 15-inch white base and did not lay out a running lane.

The appellate court agreed that the ASA requirements were established to minimize the potential for collisions such as the one between Gvillo and Klenke. However, the court pointed out that these rules did nothing to interfere with the vigorous participation in softball. In addition, the Illinois Appellate Court concluded that contact sports come with a doctrine that protects sponsors of a softball league from a complaint alleging negligence in setting up the field. Therefore, the court found that the contract sports exception could not be applied to DeCamp Junction or Moultrie.

However, the appellate court found that even still, the defendants were not entitled to summary judgment because there were issues of fact remaining:

  • whether or not the runner intentionally ran into the plaintiff, and
  • whether or not the plaintiff actually saw the runner before the collision.

Because these genuine questions were not yet decided, the court is precluded from granting a summary judgment. Therefore, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s order for summary judgment for the defendants DeCamp Junction, Inc. and Jim Moultrie and remanded the case back to the trial court.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois personal injury cases for more than 35 years in and around Chicago, Cook County, and surrounding areas, including Chicago’s Lawndale, Hoffman Estates, Mt. Prospect, Oak Lawn, Oak Forest, Chicago’s Roscoe Village, Tinley Park, and Aurora.

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