January 26, 2014

Little League coach offers to drop lawsuit against teen if he gets apology

A former Little League coach who sued one of his 14-year-old players for injuring him during a game-winning celebration, says he’s now willing to drop the $500,000 suit if the player and his family will apologize to him.

Former Little League coach Alan Beck made national headlines when he sued one of his 14-year-old players for injuring him during a post-game celebration.

Now he says he’s willing to drop the $500,000 legal action against the player and his family if they’ll apologize to him. Beck says his Achilles tendon was partially torn when he was struck by a batting helmet the player had thrown.

However, an unqualified mea culpa seems unlikely, with the lawyer representing the family expressing confidence in their legal and moral position.

“They don’t believe their child did anything wrong,” said Rajdep Chima, the family’s Marysville-based attorney.

A March 4 hearing has been set for 10 a.m. in Placer Superior Court.

Beck, a Roseville chiropractor, said he came to the decision to sue reluctantly after months of hoping his injury would heal.

He said he now finds himself with a bum leg and a battered reputation.

“It went viral. It went international,” Beck said about the lawsuit . The vast majority of response has been negative, he said. The coverage sparked waves of crank calls, some threatening, he said.

Beck said he was hurt March 23, 2013, his team’s second game of the season. As he ran toward home plate from his position as the third-base coach to celebrate the winning run scoring from third, he said he felt a sharp pain in his ankle and turned around to see a player’s helmet near his feet. Beck says the 14-year-old player didn’t toss his hard plastic helmet into the air in celebration as has been reported elsewhere, but threw it sharply, more like a football player spiking a football.

Beck said he and other coaches had previously urged the players, including the minor named in the suit, not to throw their bats or helmets.

“He had a history of throwing the helmet. We had a safety talk about that,” Beck said.

The suit, filed Nov. 6, names the minor, his parents Joe and Raegan Paris and Lakeside Little League in Granite Bay. The suit seeks damages for lost wages, medical expenses, general damage, loss of earning capacity and legal costs.

Chima disputed Beck’s version of events and said he was confident – based on case law protecting leagues and participants from sports-injury liability – his clients would win if the suit went to trial. The league also denied any liability for Beck’s injury.

“I don’t see how it was possible, how what was alleged occurred,” Chima said. If the injury occurred during the celebration, he said, the boy’s action clearly wasn’t malicious.

Lawrence Levine, who teaches law at McGeorge School of Law, said this is one area where California law offers robust protection for school districts and sports leagues alike. The law assumes that people engaging in sports and other risky behavior assume some level of risk.

“If you are going to be a Little League coach, this is one of the risks you inherit,” Levine said.

If injured athletes or coaches were free to sue, he said, no organization would host games and athletes would be discouraged from playing out of fear of being sued for on-field action.

But Beck says the injury did not occur during normal game play, rather during an unwarranted celebratory action that the player had previously been asked to stop.

“If it were in the context of the game, it would be different,” Beck said.

But Levine said it’s likely a post-game celebration would be considered part of the assumed risk of coaching a game.

Beck said he didn’t report the injury right away or seek medical attention because as a chiropractor he felt he could deal with it.

He spent the next two days icing the leg. When he did see a doctor, he was told he needed to get the swelling down before he could get an MRI. Over the next several weeks, he continued trying to tough it out, including continuing to hobble out to games.

“I have to be at work. I’m a sole proprietor,” Beck said.

Beck said he grew increasingly annoyed with the Parises’ failure to offer sympathy or accept blame on behalf of their son for the injury.

He said he hoped their homeowner’s insurance would cover his mounting out-of-pocket costs but felt he was being ignored by the boy’s mother.

On Dec. 30, doctors took a tendon from Beck’s toe to repair his Achilles. He still uses a wheelchair, but Beck said he is working short days in hopes of not losing too many customers.

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