Appeal from the Circuit Court of Madison County. No. 08-L-871 Honorable Ann Callis, Judge, presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Chapman
NOTICE The text of this decision may be changed or corrected prior to the filing of a Petition for Rehearing or the disposition of the same.
PRESIDING JUSTICE CHAPMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.Justices Spomer and Stewart concurred in the judgment and opinion.
¶ 1 The plaintiff, Gregory Gvillo, was injured during a softball game when defendant Aron Klenke collided with him. The plaintiff alleged, in relevant part, that defendants DeCamp Junction, Inc., and Jim Moultrie set up the softball field in an unreasonably dangerous manner, thereby causing the collision. He appeals an order of the trial court granting summary judgment in favor of DeCamp Junction and Moultrie. The plaintiff argues that (1) the court erred in finding that the contact sports exception applies and (2) even assuming the contact sports exception applies, genuine issues of material fact remain as to whether the defendants acted willfully and wantonly. We reverse.
¶ 2 At issue in this appeal is the contact sports exception to ordinary negligence as a basis for liability. Under that exception, a participant in a contact sport is only liable for injuries caused to another participant if the injuries are caused by intentional or willful and wanton misconduct. Participants are not liable for injuries that result from ordinary negligence. Pfister v. Shusta, 167 Ill. 2d 417, 419, 657 N.E.2d 1013, 1014 (1995). The question before this court is whether this exception applies to the organizational defendants, DeCamp Junction and Moultrie, under the circumstances presented.
¶ 3 DeCamp Junction and its employee, Moultrie, set up an informal amateur softball league each summer. The plaintiff was the coach and first baseman for a team that played in the league. Klenke was a coach and player on another team. During a playoff game, Klenke hit a ground ball towards the third baseman, who fielded the ball and threw it to the plaintiff. In order to make the play, the plaintiff had to stretch out to reach the ball while keeping his foot on first base. Just after the plaintiff caught the ball, Klenke collided with him while attempting to reach first base. As a result of this collision, the plaintiff suffered a fracture and nerve damage.
¶ 4 In his complaint, the plaintiff alleged that the organizational defendants provided a playing field that was unreasonably dangerous. He alleged that the defendants were responsible for setting up the softball field. He further alleged that they did not follow two safety rules of the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) that are designed to prevent collisions like the one that occurred between the plaintiff and Klenke. Specifically, rule 2, section 3H, of the ASA Rules of Softball provides that 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. The plaintiff explained in his discovery deposition that this system allows the first baseman to use the white half of the base in fair territory to make the play and leaves the green or orange half of the base in foul territory for the base runner.
¶ 5 In addition, section 3 of rule 2 requires a running lane between home plate and first base. This is to be accomplished by painting a line parallel to the base line three feet away from the base line in foul territory. The rule provides for this line to run from the outer edge of first base to a point halfway between home plate and first base. According to the plaintiff's complaint, both of these rules are safety rules designed to prevent collisions between batters and first basemen. He alleged that the defendants provided only a single 15-inch-by-15-inch white base in fair territory and did not provide a running lane. He further alleged that the organizational defendants acted "willfully, wantonly, and/or recklessly" in setting up the field in this "highly dangerous manner."
¶ 6 In a discovery deposition, the plaintiff testified that the league set up by the defendants followed the ASA's softball rules "with a few minor exceptions." He stated that they used different types of bats and balls than were called for under ASA rules. The plaintiff also testified that first base had been set up as a single 15-by-15 base all season. He testified that he played weekly games at DeCamp Juction from May, when the season began, until September, when the accident occurred. He testified that there was a "close call" at first base earlier in the season and that he mentioned this to Moultrie, but he admitted that he never refused to play because of the way first base was set up.
¶ 7 The plaintiff also testified regarding his perception of Klenke's intent. He stated that prior to the start of the game, the two teams argued over player eligibility. According to the plaintiff, a player on Klenke's team had not played regularly during the weekly "regular season" games and was therefore not eligible to play in the playoff rounds. The plaintiff called this to the attention of the umpires, and the player was disqualified. He testified that he did not know whether Klenke was upset about this. He later testified that he believed that Klenke ran into him intentionally, but he admitted that he did not actually know what Klenke was thinking.
¶ 8 The organizational defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. In it, the defendants argued that they were entitled to a judgment as a matter of law because (1) the contact sports exception was applicable and the factual record did not demonstrate that the defendants engaged in willful and wanton misconduct and (2) the ASA rules regarding the setup of first base and the first base line were not applicable to an "informal summer 'beer league.' " The court denied the motion for summary judgment. The defendants then filed a motion to reconsider, raising essentially the same three arguments. This time, they specifically argued that the contact sports exception was applicable to organizational defendants just as it was applicable to participants. They also argued that they did not have a duty to use the ASA's double-base system because the game was not sponsored by the ASA. The court granted the motion to reconsider and the motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff then filed the instant appeal.
¶ 9 Summary judgment is appropriate only if the pleadings, depositions, and affidavits show that there are no genuine issues of material fact to be resolved and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Thompson v. Gordon, 241 Ill. 2d 428, 438, 948 N.E.2d 39, 45 (2011). Summary judgment is a drastic measure. Thus, when determining whether genuine issues of material fact remain that would preclude summary judgment, we view the factual record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. United National Insurance Co. v. Faure Brothers Corp., 409 Ill. App. 3d 711, 716, 949 N.E.2d 1185, 1190 (2011). In addition, summary judgment is not appropriate unless the moving party's right to judgment is " 'clear and free from doubt.' " United National Insurance Co., 409 Ill. App. 3d at 716, 949 N.E.2d at 1190 (quoting Williams v. Manchester, 228 Ill. 2d 404, 417, 888 N.E.2d 1, 9 (2008)). Our review is de novo. United National Insurance Co., 409 Ill. App. 3d at 716, 949 N.E.2d at 1190.
¶ 10 The plaintiff argues that the contact sports exception does not apply under the facts and circumstances of this case. As previously mentioned, that exception provides that a participant in a contact sport is not liable for injuries to another participant based on principles of ordinary negligence, but a participant is liable for injuries caused by willful and wanton or intentional misconduct. Pfister, 167 Ill. 2d at 419, 657 N.E.2d at 1014. Put differently, participants in contact sports owe other participants a "duty to refrain from willful and wanton or intentional misconduct." Pfister, 167 Ill. 2d at 420, 657 N.E.2d at 1015. One reason for this rule is that physical contact between players is an inherent part of contact ...