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Manning v. Grimsley - 643 F.2d 20 (1st Cir. 1981)

Rule:

An actor is subject to liability to another for battery if: (a) he acts intending to cause a harmful or offensive contact with the person of the other or a third person, or an imminent apprehension of such a contact, and (b) a harmful contact with the person of the other directly or indirectly results.

Facts:

During a professional baseball game held at Fenway Park in Boston, defendant pitcher Ross Grimsley had been warming up by throwing a ball from a pitcher’s mound to a plate in the bullpen located near the right field bleachers. The spectators in the bleachers continuously heckled Grimsley. On several occasions immediately following heckling, Grimsley looked directly at the hecklers. At the end of the third inning of the game, Grimsley, after his catcher had left his catching position and was walking over to the bench, faced the bleachers and wound up or stretched as though to pitch in the direction of the plate toward which he had been throwing but the ball traveled from Grimsley's hand at more than 80 miles an hour at an angle of 90 degrees to the path from the pitcher's mound to the plate and directly toward the hecklers in the bleachers. The ball passed through the wire mesh fence and hit the plaintiff. Consequently, plaintiff brought an action sounding in battery and negligence against the defendants, which included Grimsley's employer, the Baltimore Club. The district court entered a directed verdict on the battery count, and the jury returned a general verdict for defendants on the negligence count. Plaintiff challenged the district court’s decision.

Issue:

Did the district court err in its decision to enter directed verdicts in favor of the defendants, which were a pitcher and his employer, in plaintiff injured baseball spectator's cause of action for battery?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The United States Court of Appeals vacated and remanded for a new trial. The Court held that the jury could have found a battery on facts that pitcher Grimsley was an expert pitcher, looked at the spectators several times immediately following heckling, and that the ball traveled at a right angle from the direction in which he had been pitching. From this, the jury could reasonably have inferred that Grimsley intended (1) to throw the ball in the direction of the hecklers, (2) to cause them imminent apprehension of being hit, and (3) to respond to conduct presently affecting his ability to warm up and, if the opportunity came, to play in the game itself. The evidence and inferences would have permitted a jury to conclude that the defendant Grimsley committed a battery against the plaintiff.  Under general tort law, absolute liability was imposed whether the harm was intended at plaintiff or a third person. The rule that permits recovery by a person who was not the target of the defendant embody a strong social policy including obedience to the criminal law by imposing an absolute civil liability to anyone who is physically injured as a result of an intentional harmful contact or a threat thereof directed either at him or a third person. Accordingly, it was error for the district court to have directed a verdict for defendant Grimsley on the battery count. It follows that the plaintiff is entitled to a vacation of the judgment on the battery counts in favor of defendants Grimsley and his employer, the Baltimore Club. 

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