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Carlson v. Town of South Kingstown

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

February 5, 2016

Kathleen Carlson
Town of South Kingstown et al.

Washington County Superior Court WC 12-486 Associate Justice Kristin E. Rodgers.

For Plaintiff: Ronald J. Resmini, Esq.

For Defendants: Erik J. Tomberg, Esq., Brian J. Clifford, Esq.

Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.



The plaintiff, Kathleen Carlson, appeals from a Superior Court judgment in favor of one of the defendants, South Kingstown Little League (league or defendant), in this negligence action. The plaintiff sustained an injury at a park owned by the Town of South Kingstown (town) while she was a spectator at a Little League baseball game organized by the defendant. This case came before the Supreme Court pursuant to an order directing the parties to appear and show cause why the issues raised in this appeal should not be summarily decided. After considering the parties' written and oral submissions and reviewing the record, we conclude that cause has not been shown and that this case may be decided without further briefing or argument. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.


Facts and Procedural History

This Court is familiar with the facts of this case as set forth in our previous decision in Carlson v. Town of South Kingstown, 111 A.3d 819 (R.I. 2015) (Carlson I).[1] In summary, on July 28, 2010, plaintiff was at Tuckertown Field (the park) in the Wakefield section of South Kingstown watching her son play Little League baseball. The game was scheduled and organized by defendant. The park and field were owned and maintained by the town. At the end of the game, plaintiff, who had been "watching the game against a fence between one of the dugouts and the batting cages, " began to walk towards her son. As she walked towards the concession stand, plaintiff "felt [her] ankle fall into this little divot in the ground." As a result, plaintiff fractured her right leg in three different places.

Victor J. Beretta (Beretta), a fellow Little League parent and former assistant coach, did not witness the fall but observed the divot on the ground where plaintiff was injured. During his deposition, he described the divot as roughly "6, 8 inches across, maybe a little wider than that" and "a good 8, 10 inches deep." Beretta also testified at his deposition that the divots were a "repetitive problem" that was caused by players who would dig the toe and spikes of their baseball cleats into the ground while waiting for their turn to enter the batting cages. He estimated that the location of this specific divot was "probably 10 or 15 feet from the right field fence" and "probably 5, 8 feet, maybe closer" to the "gate that leads into the first batting cage." Although Beretta could not confirm if it was this same divot, he testified at his deposition that divots had been filled in in the past and that this specific divot looked as if it had been there for a while.

Theresa Murphy (Murphy), the Director of Leisure Services for the town, explained during her deposition that the town had three, three-person maintenance crews who maintained the town's seventeen parks. She explained that, with respect to Tuckertown Park, a three-person crew "provide[s] park maintenance twice a week." Among other tasks, the town mowed the grass, picked up litter, and checked for damage to park equipment and grounds. According to Frank J. Gallucci, the league's president, the town is also responsible for preparing the field for the game, which includes lining the field, grooming the infield, and placing the bases and home plate on the field. After being informed of the divot that allegedly caused plaintiff's injuries, the town filled in the divot the following day. Murphy further testified that there were no warnings posted at the park alerting the public to potential defects in the grounds, but she acknowledged that it was not uncommon to find divots in the field.

According to Murphy, the town does not charge the league to use the baseball field because it is a nonprofit youth sports league. Murphy also testified that the league is not instructed to remedy any defect observed while using the ball field. Gallucci, who at the time of the incident was on the league's board of directors, testified at his deposition that he had never observed the divots at the park. He also explained that there was no formal inspection process of the field conducted by the league; but he added that if the coaches saw "any issues that [they] want[ed] to question on the field, " they would raise them. He further testified that, had he seen the divot "[he] would inform the [t]own[, ]" but that the league was not responsible for maintaining the park.

In her complaint, plaintiff alleged that defendant was "negligent in maintaining the premises of Tuckertown Field * * *." As a result of defendant's negligence, plaintiff claims that she "sustained severe personal injuries that required medical treatment that is ongoing, as well as lost wages and loss of earning capacity, anxiety, pain and suffering * * *." On July 7, 2014, the league moved for summary judgment, arguing that it had not owed a duty of care to maintain the park. The plaintiff objected to the motion, insisting that defendant had a duty to inspect the park prior to hosting a Little League game and to repair any defects that were discovered, or at a minimum to warn of known dangerous conditions. The league's motion was argued and granted on August 18, 2014. The hearing justice reasoned that "[t]here's no ownership interest that the league has in the property itself, both of the athletic field itself as well as the surrounding areas." The ...

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