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Koffman v. Garnett

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Andrew, a thirteen-year-old boy, was criticized by his assistant football coach, Defendant, for his tackling skills. Defendant instructed Andrew to stand straight, without moving, while holding the football. Andrew complied. Defendant raised Andrew from the ground and slammed him back down to the ground. During the incident, Andrew broke his harm. Plaintiffs, Andrew’s parents, brought suit on behalf of Andrew and on their own behalf. The trial court dismissed the complaint, and Plaintiff’s appealed.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A plaintiff may seek recovery for a battery when he or she is injured while playing an organized sport only if the plaintiff did not expressly or impliedly agree to the harmful contact.

    Facts.

    Andrew Koffman, a thirteen year old, joined a football team. Andrew had never played football before. In the beginning of the season, the team’s assistant coach, James Garnett, Defendant, criticized the Andrew’s tackling skills. Thereafter, Defendant demanded that Andrew hold a football and stand straight without moving. Defendant raised Andrew at least two feet off the ground and slammed him down to the ground. Andrew weighed about 144 pounds and the Defendant weighed about 260. Defendant broke Andrew’s arm. Before this incident between Defendant and Andrew, coaches had never used physical force to instruct the players. Andrew’s parents, Richard and Rebecca Koffman (collectively Plaintiffs), individually and on behalf of Andrew, brought suit against Defendant for gross negligence, assault, and battery. The trial court dismissed the complaint, and Plaintiffs appealed.

    Issue.

    Whether a plaintiff may seek recovery for a battery when he or she is injured while playing an organized sport.

    Held.

    Yes, a plaintiff may seek recovery for a battery when he or she is injured while playing an organized sport only if the plaintiff did not expressly or impliedly agree to the harmful contact.

    Concurrence.

    The majority properly found that the Plaintiffs have a claim for gross negligence, but its analysis of the battery claim is improper. A battery claim is only present, in the context of an organized sport, when the defendant violates a rule or regulation in the organized sport that was created for the players’ protection. In this case, no such violation occurred. Instead, it was Defendant’s job to adequately train the players to protect themselves during an actual game and the act of demonstrating how to properly tackle is part of the sport’s training. Therefore, Because Andrew consented to being instructed in tackling skills, Defendant’s tackle cannot be deemed to be a battery. 

    Discussion.

    A claim for gross negligence is satisfied when the plaintiff makes a showing that the defendant has acted with complete disregard for the plaintiff’s safety. In this case, Defendant’s knowledge of the size difference between him and Andrew, along with his implicit direction to Andrew to not defend himself, the amount of force Defendant used in the incident, and the lack of previously instructing players using physical force, could lead a reasonable juror to conclude that Defendant acted with gross negligence. Also, A claim for battery is satisfied when there is unwanted, unjustified, unexcused, and not consented to contact. In this case, Plaintiffs have introduced sufficient allegations that would allow a jury to determine whether Andrew consented to such contact.Even though Andrew’s participates on the football team, which may signify that Andrew has consented to being tackled by other players, Andrew may not have consented to being tackled by an adult coach.Nevertheless, Plaintiffs’ complaint does not satisfy a claim for assault, which requires an apprehension of imminent battery. Because Andrew did not know what Defendant was going to do or what force was coming to Andrew’s direction, Andrew could not have felt apprehension prior to being touched by Defendant. Overall, the lower court’s decision is reversed with respect to the claims of gross negligence and battery.


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