The Iowa Supreme Court has overturned a Scott County jury’s verdict in the case of a former Muscatine baseball player who sued Davenport Assumption High School after he was hit in the head by a foul ball in 2011.
In a written opinion released Friday, Supreme Court justices said the high school owed a duty of care to Spencer Ludman, now 24, and there was substantial evidence presented at trial that supported the jury’s verdict.
However, the justices ruled that the trial judge abused her discretion in not allowing Assumption to present evidence about the dugout configuration of other baseball fields and should have instructed jurors to consider Assumption's contention that Ludman failed to keep a "proper lookout" under Iowa law.
The case has been remanded to Scott County for a new trial.
Ludman’s attorney, Steven Crowley, was out of the office Friday and could not be reached for comment.
Assumption's attorney, Thomas Boes, wrote in an email that "we are pleased with the Iowa Supreme Court's decision and look forward to vindicating Assumption High School at the newly ordered trial."
Ludman, then 18, was hit in the head by a line drive while standing at a gap in the fence of the visitors’ dugout during a game against Assumption on July 7, 2011. He suffered a skull fracture and brain hemorrhage.
A district court jury in 2015 awarded Ludman about $1 million,. Assumption appealed, arguing that getting hit by a ball is an understood risk of playing the game and that Ludman was well aware of the risk of being hit by a foul ball.
The testimony in district court found that although Ludman was watching the game, he was not watching Muscatine player Brooks Wagner's at-bat and didn't try to take cover until it was too late.
In its decision, the Supreme Court found that there are no mandatory statutes requiring Assumption to build its field in any specific manner and that “parties can prove negligence by expert testimony or by custom.”
“We cannot find any authority precluding a party from using a different method than that of the opposing party to prove or disprove negligence,” the justices said in their opinion.
However, justices noted it is still up to a jury to weigh the evidence of custom against the other evidence in the case and ultimately determine the issue of negligence based on the facts and circumstances of the case.
To the issue of the proper lookout instruction, the court ruled that although Ludman testified that he was watching the game, “a reasonable person could find he failed to follow the ball from the pitcher to the batter’s bat and therefore, failed to maintain a proper lookout.”
Justices further wrote that they cannot say the court’s failure to give jurors this instruction prejudiced Assumption, but “based on Ludman’s testimony regarding his lookout, it was error for the court not to instruct the jury on proper lookout.”