A boy injured during a paintball game may not recover damages from the boy who shot him, according to a Wisconsin appeals court. In Houston v. Freese, a boy who removed his helmet during a game, then suffered an eye injury when he was hit with a paint pellet, sued the boy who fired the pellet for negligence and recklessness. The appeals court found that state laws governing “contact sport” claims precluded a negligence claim, and that the defendant was not reckless as a matter of law.
Jacob Stelter, age 13, invited seven friends to play paintball in an outdoor course that his older brother Kyle had built near their house. Jett Houston and Alex Freese were among the friends who came over. Kyle, who was an experienced player, gave instructions to the group on safety procedures and equipment. Each boy had a mask with goggles for face and eye protection. Kyle instructed them to keep their masks on at all times in the game area, even if they had been eliminated from play. The boys played elimination rounds, in which players had to leave the game area when they were hit with a pellet. They called time-outs sometimes when a player was leaving the field.
At one point, Houston and his teammates remained in the game, but Freese was the only member of his team left. Houston and Freese were hiding behind bunkers separated by about forty-five yards. One of Houston’s teammates called for a time-out. Houston removed his mask and stood up from behind his bunker. Freese, from over forty yards away, said he did not hear anyone call a time-out. He fired two pellets at a figure he saw standing up. One pellet struck Houston in the eye, causing his retina to detach.
Houston sued Freese for negligence and recklessness. Freese moved for summary judgment, arguing that, as a player in a contact sport, state law immunized him from negligence claims. He also asked the court to rule that he was not reckless as a matter of law. The trial court granted summary judgment on both claims.
The appeals court affirmed the summary judgment. It held that paintball qualifies as a “contact sport,” and that therefore Houston could only bring a claim for recklessness. It also held that Freese’s conduct did not meet the legal standard for recklessness. Because of the distance between the bunkers, it is conceivable that he did not hear the time-out and thought the game was still underway. Additionally, Houston removed his mask in the game area despite instructions not to do so. For these reasons, the court held that Freese did not have the “conscious disregard” for the risk of harm legally required for recklessness.
Indiana applies a negligence standard to sports injuries, but allows for consideration of the risks inherent in any sporting activity. The Indiana Supreme Court held in Pfenning v. Lineman that participants in a sport owe a duty of care to other players based on “the range of ordinary behavior” in that particular sport. A player who deliberately injures another players may also be liable for an intentional tort, such as battery.
The attorneys at Parr Richey Obremskey Frandsen & Patterson represent the interests of Indiana accident victims and their families, helping them to obtain compensation for their damages. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with one of our lawyers, contact us today online or at (888) 532-7766.
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