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Court Dismisses Personal Injury Claim Arising from Paintball Game

540232_90969225.jpgA Wisconsin court dismissed a boy’s lawsuit for damages sustained while playing paintball, when a boy on the opposing team allegedly shot him in the eye during a break in play. In Houston v. Freese, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals for the Third District held that state law precluded a claim for negligence because paintball is considered a “contact sport.” The law instead imposes a standard of recklessness, which the court held was not demonstrated in this case. Sports injuries occurring during game play have long presented challenges to attorneys, who must prove that an injury resulted from something other than ordinary game play.

Plaintiff Jett Houston and Defendant Alex Freese, both minors, went to a friend’s house in July 2008 to play paintball. Their hosts, Jacob Stelter and his older brother Kyle, had set up a paintball course near their home. Kyle, an experienced player, instructed the eight participants in the rules of the game, safety equipment, and safety procedures. All of the boys had protective masks, with attached goggles, to shield their faces and eyes from paint pellets. Kyle instructed the boys to wear their helmets at all times in the game area, even if they had been eliminated from play.

During a game, Houston and Freese were playing on opposing teams. Freese’s teammates had all been eliminated, but Houston and his three teammates remained in the game. Houston and Freese were hiding behind bunkers about forty yards apart from each other. The players had previously agreed to allow players to call time-outs. Someone on Houston’s team called a time-out, at which time Houston removed his helmet and stood up.

Freese claimed that he did not hear the time-out. When he saw someone stand up, he fired his pellet gun at him. A pellet from Freese’s gun hit Houston in the eye. No more than thirty seconds had passed since the time-out was called. Houston was later diagnosed with a detached retina.

Houston sued Freese and Freese’s insurer for negligence and recklessness. The trial court granted summary judgment for Freese, finding that state law granted him immunity from liability for negligence in a contact sport, and that he was not reckless as a matter of law. The appeals court affirmed the judgment. It held that Freese was not reckless because he did not “consciously disregard the risk of serious bodily harm” when he fired at Houston.

Florida applies a different standard for sports injuries, the doctrine of “express assumption of risk.” A participant in a sports activity consents to certain risks, according to the Florida Supreme Court in Kuehner v. Green. The doctrine of comparative negligence applies to sports injuries, so the defendant’s liability is largely based on the plaintiff’s understanding of and consent to the sporting activity. A defendant may still be fully liable for intentional injuries under a battery claim.

The attorneys at Cohn & Smith fight to recover compensation for people who have suffered injuries in South Florida due to the negligent or reckless conduct of others. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with one of our lawyers, contact us today online, or call 954 431 8100, or at 305 624 9186.

More Blog Posts:

Miami Court Dismisses Consumer Claims Against Football Helmet Manufacturers, South Florida Injury Attorney Blog, July 5, 2012
Florida Receives Average Score in Advocacy Group’s Injury Prevention Ranking, South Florida Injury Attorney Blog, July 3, 2012
Sports Injury to a Minor, South Florida Injury Attorney Blog, October 28, 2011
Photo credit: ‘Paintballer Glare’ by statianzo on stock.xchng.

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