Judge in softball sliding lawsuit postpones trial

By John O'Brien | Jun 6, 2013

MARTINSBURG – The trial of a girl who blames a youth softball league for the broken ankle she suffered while sliding has been postponed, as has a ruling on the league’s strongly worded summary judgment motion.

On May 15, Berkeley County Circuit Court Judge Gray Silver III set a new trial date of Oct. 1 after both sides informed him that they would have trouble with the June 23 date that had been set.

Del. Stephen Skinner, who is representing the plaintiff Courtney Roberts, said he would be busy with legislative interims that begin in Wheeling on June 19, while attorneys for the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Softball League also pushed for a new scheduling order.

Roberts filed her lawsuit in March 2011, alleging she didn’t want to participate in a 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, a coach 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 and earlier this year dismissed the coach as a defendant.

At issue at a May 15 hearing was a motion for summary judgment recently filed by the league.

“Unfortunately, Courtney suffered one of the injuries that occasionally happen in sports such as softball,” says the motion, filed by Martinsburg attorneys Richard McCune and Alex Tsiatsos.

“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. She had been 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, but changed her mind.

During her final exam, Roberts says she experienced ankle and back pain so severe she decided not to attend nursing school.

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

“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.”

Skinner, a Charles Town attorney, had not filed a response by the time of the hearing. Instead, Silver asked the parties to hold the motion in abeyance.

Though McCune and Tsiatsos asserted the motion was ripe for adjudication, Silver did not agree.

“After hearing from counsel, the Court finds that the appropriate course of action is to defer ruling on the Defendant’s summary judgment motion as discovery continues with respect to both liability and damages…” Silver wrote in a May 22 order.

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.

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

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