Iowa High Court Orders New Trial in High School Baseball Injury Case

By DAVID PITT | June 6, 2017

The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday ordered a new trial in the case of a Muscatine high school baseball player whose skull was fractured when he was struck by a foul ball during a game in Davenport in 2011.

A jury initially sided with Spencer Ludman and awarded him more than $1 million in damages, saying Davenport Assumption High School was partially responsible for his injuries. Ludman suffered seizures and depression, and had to undergo speech therapy and motor skills treatment after the accident.

But the Supreme Court ruled that the trial judge should have allowed additional evidence and ordered the case returned to Scott County for a new trial.

The case centers on a July 2011 game between Muscatine High School and Davenport Assumption High School. In the fifth inning, when a fellow Muscatine player was at bat, Ludman was standing at the south opening of the visitor’s dugout when a line-drive foul ball struck him in the head.

The high school senior was hospitalized at University of Iowa Hospitals in Iowa City for 12 days. He began having seizures in March 2012, which required anti-seizure medication, and he continued to deal with post-traumatic stress symptoms, depression and behavioral issues, according to a lawsuit his family filed in 2013.

The lawsuit alleged negligence, arguing that the Davenport high school failed to conform to accepted standards of protection for players, including preventing fast-moving foul balls from entering the dugout.

A jury in 2015 determined the school was 70 percent responsible for Ludman’s injuries, and Ludman was 30 percent responsible. The jury awarded him damages that included past and future medical bills, partial loss of full mind and body, and for pain and suffering.

The Davenport school appealed on multiple grounds. The Supreme Court found two arguments convincing. The court said the school should have been allowed to present evidence that its dugout was of standard design and construction for high schools, and that the jury should hear testimony about whether Ludman had a responsibility to be on the lookout for a foul ball.

“Although Ludman stated 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,” the high court said. “Under the law of proper lookout, a jury could have decided Ludman was not “being watchful of the movements of one’s self in relation to the things seen by failing to follow the ball, and that constituted negligence.”

Attorneys for Ludman did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment from The Associated Press. Multiple calls to the Ludman residence in Muscatine rang unanswered or busy on Friday.

Thomas Boes, an attorney for Davenport Assumption, said he looks forward to vindicating the school at a new trial.

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