A New Jersey woman who sustained severe teeth and mouth injuries as a teenage softball player will be allowed to sue her coach and the league for damages, a state appeals court ruled on Monday.
A two-judge Appellate Division panel said a Union County Superior Court judge erred when he dismissed plaintiff Madison Mone’s lawsuit on summary judgment. Appellate Division Judges Amy O’Connor and Francis Vernoia said there were genuine issues of material fact that should be decided by a jury.
“The trial court may not resolve contested factual issues; it may only determine whether there are any genuine factual disputes,” the appeals court said.
Mone, who is now an adult, was injured in June 2007, when she was 13 and playing for a team in the Girls Softball League of Westfield, the ruling said. The league and her coach, Kim Graziadei, are the defendants.
According to the decision, Mone was injured while warming up a pitcher on the sidelines. She was struck in the face by a pitch, causing extensive damage that included the loss of one tooth, damage to other teeth, and facial and jaw damage.
She was wearing shin guards and a chest protector, but not a face mask at the time, the ruling said.
Factual disputes arose during deposition testimony from Mone and Graziadei, according to the ruling. Mone claims Graziadei said catchers warming up pitchers had to wear full equipment while on the field, but said nothing about wearing full equipment while warming up off the field of play and on the sidelines. Graziadei contends she made it clear during the first day of practice that players warming up pitchers had to wear full equipment.
The deposition testimony, the appeals court said, did not clarify whether Graziadei differentiated between warming up on or off the field.
There also is a dispute over whether Mone was actually supposed to play in that day’s game. Mone said Graziadei told her she was, but Graziadei said she said nothing to Mone along those lines, and that Mone and the pitcher had, on their own, decided to warm up in foul territory.
The motion judge made a “credibility determination” and dismissed the lawsuit based on Graziadei’s testimony, the Appellate Division said. “If there are materially disputed facts, a motion for summary judgment may not be granted,” the judges said.
“The question remains whether the coach was grossly negligent for failing to properly supervise [Mone],” the judges added.
Mone’s attorney, Ralph Ferrara, said the appeals court made the correct decision because of the inconsistent deposition testimony.
Ferrara, of the Ferrara Law Group in Trenton, said Mone sustained severe damage and facial scarring in the accident.
Graziadei and the league are represented by Robert Ball of the Bedminster office of Weber Gallagher Simpson Stapleton Fires & Newby. He said he was in the process of reviewing the ruling with his clients and declined to comment.