MARTINSBURG – The attorneys defending a youth softball league in a lawsuit filed by a former player have gone on the offensive, questioning the plaintiff’s decision to sue and drop out of nursing school.

On May 10, attorneys for Martinsburg-Berkeley County Softball League filed their motion for summary judgment in a lawsuit brought in March 2011 in Berkeley Circuit Court by Courtney Roberts, who was 14 when she slid into third base during practice and broke her ankle.

Martinsburg attorneys Richard McCune and Alex Tsiatsos are representing the league. They say Roberts and her parents were well aware of the risks of injury.

“Unfortunately, Courtney suffered one of the injuries that occasionally happen in sports such as softball,” the motion says.

“Courtney’s parents chose to sue the volunteer league and its young, volunteer, unpaid, college-age coach, claiming that their daughter has lost millions of dollars because they allege she cannot be the specific kind of nurse that she wanted to be.”

Roberts alleges that the injury will prevent her from achieving her goal of becoming a registered nurse. On Feb. 16, her mother said Roberts was on track to complete pre-nursing course work at James Rumsey Technical Institute in Hedgesville and had been accepted into the nursing program at Blue Ridge Community College.

Two months later, Roberts’ life care expert Elizabeth Davis said during a deposition that Roberts should be able to complete course work and function as an RN with physical limitations. Roberts would also experience a slight loss in earnings, Davis said.

But on May 1, Roberts’ attorney sent a letter to Tsiatsos, notifying him that Roberts experienced ankle and back pain during her final exam that was much more serious than she anticipated.

“Courtney advised that she realized that she would not be capable of becoming a nurse due to her ankle,” the letter says. “She will not be going to nursing school.”

This made attorneys for the league skeptical.

“This alleged sudden change, coming so shortly after Elizabeth Davis’ deposition, raises serious concerns,” the motion says.

“If one difficult day is enough to discard a lifelong career goal, how speculative were the career earnings to begin with?

“The plaintiff’s sudden decision that Courtney cannot go to nursing school risks treating Courtney as though she were crippled. But Courtney is not crippled. She walks all day at school and can drive and take care of herself and does not consider herself disabled.”

The plaintiff’s lawyers have not yet responded. On May 13, Stephen Skinner, a member of the House of Delegates, said he was taking over as lead counsel.

He advised Judge Gray Silver that legislative interims will be held in Wheeling on June 19 and recommended pushing a June 23 trial date back. The league’s attorneys have also asked for a new scheduling order.

Original defendants also included Courtni Williams, a coach who was running the sliding drill, and the league’s insurance provider. Williams was recently dismissed as a defendant by the plaintiff.

Roberts alleges she didn’t want to participate in the sliding drill and that she’d never slid before. Court records show that she told the coaches present that she did not feel comfortable sliding, and on her first run to third base she went in standing up.

On the second try, Williams asked Roberts if she wanted to try sliding, and Roberts crushed her left ankle, tibia and fibula and has undergone several surgeries. She is also alleging that the condition of the field was substandard.

The motion for summary judgment alleges Roberts’ chiropractor, three weeks before the accident, had told her not to do anything strenuous for two weeks to a month.

Roberts and her parents “voluntarily participated in a sport in which they knew that broken ankles were possible from sliding,” the motion says.

“Broken ankles are an inherent risk in playing softball. West Virginia law therefore bars their recovery for any resulting injuries.”

Another notable aspect of the case was a former expert witness for the defense who was arrested on heroin-related charges.

The expert was former Martinsburg High softball coach Calvin Anthony Russ. He was allegedly in a car when a confidential police informant purchased $50 of heroin from Russ’ girlfriend Kayla Bell.

He was arraigned in September on felony charges of delivery of heroin and conspiracy to deliver heroin.

On Oct. 23, the league substituted local softball coach Thomas Merceruio as an expert witness.

From the West Virginia Record: Reach John O’Brien at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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