Leonard ex rel. Meyer v. Behrens, No. 97-2191.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtPER CURIAM.
Citation601 N.W.2d 76
PartiesEric J. LEONARD, by His Parent and Next Friend, Nancy MEYER, and Nancy Meyer, Individually, Appellants, v. Chad BEHRENS, Individually, by His Parent and Next Friend, Gary Behrens, Appellee.
Docket NumberNo. 97-2191.
Decision Date13 October 1999

601 N.W.2d 76

Eric J. LEONARD, by His Parent and Next Friend, Nancy MEYER, and Nancy Meyer, Individually, Appellants,
v.
Chad BEHRENS, Individually, by His Parent and Next Friend, Gary Behrens, Appellee

No. 97-2191.

Supreme Court of Iowa.

October 13, 1999.


601 N.W.2d 77
Robert J. McGee of Robert J. McGee, P.C., Clinton, for appellants

T. Randy Current of Frey, Haufe & Current, P.L.C., Clinton, for appellee.

Considered by LARSON, P.J., and CARTER, TERNUS, CADY, and HARRIS,1 JJ.

PER CURIAM.

Plaintiffs, Eric Leonard and his mother Nancy Meyer, appeal the judgment of the district court dismissing their case following the defendant's motion for directed verdict. Plaintiffs had claimed the defendant, Chad Behrens, was negligent in shooting Eric in the eye during a game of paintball and in failing to warn him of the tendency of the goggles Chad had supplied him to fog up. The court ruled that the "contact sports exception" to the general rule of negligence applied whereby the plaintiff was required to prove that the defendant acted recklessly and that the plaintiffs had failed to present evidence of such recklessness. We find the district court correctly applied the recklessness standard in judging the defendant's actions during the paintball game. We affirm.

I. Factual Background and Proceedings.

On March 6, 1994, a group of teenagers assembled to play a game called "paintball" on a farm. Participants Eric Leonard and Chad Behrens were both fifteen years old. Eric had never played the game before but Chad regularly participated in paintball games. The purpose of the game was to strike players on the opposing side with gelatin capsules filled with colored vegetable oil which are intended to break on contact. Once a player is struck by a ball, he or she is considered out of the game.

Each participant had a slingshot to propel the paint balls. The participants also

601 N.W.2d 78
had goggles which they were instructed to wear during the games to protect their eyes. Chad had provided Eric with goggles even though he knew they had a tendency to fog over. During game play, Eric's goggles did, in fact, fog over. Eric removed the goggles from his eyes and placed them over his head. While the goggles were up, Eric was shot in the eye with a paint ball apparently fired by Chad

Eric and his mother brought an action against Chad seeking compensation for Eric's injuries. They relied on two theories. First, they contended Chad breached a duty to Eric in shooting him in the eye. Second, they contended Chad breached a duty when he failed to warn Eric that the goggles had a tendency to fog up.2

Because the standard of care for participants playing a game such as paintball was an issue of first impression in Iowa, Chad filed an application for adjudication of law points prior to trial. Looking to other jurisdictions for guidance, the district court adopted the majority rule known as the "contact sports exception." This exception provides that a participant in a contact sport may only bring suit for injuries received during the game for acts of another participant done to intentionally inflict injury or done in reckless disregard for the safety of the other participant. The court found that paintball is a contact sport, and the exception applied to both of the plaintiffs' theories of recovery.

At trial, Chad moved for a directed verdict at the close of plaintiffs' evidence. The court ruled that substantial evidence showed the participants discussed the rules of the game before playing, including the use of eye goggles, and there was no evidence Chad knew Eric was not wearing his goggles when he shot the paint ball. Thus, the court held as a matter of law that Chad was not reckless in failing to warn Eric the goggles had a tendency to fog up, nor was his conduct in shooting a paint ball at Eric reckless. The district court ruled the plaintiffs failed to prove Chad's conduct fell outside the protection of the contact-sports exception and entered judgment for Chad. Plaintiffs appeal.

Plaintiffs argue the district court should have adopted a general negligence standard for contact sports. They further maintain that even if the contact sports exception standard was generally applicable, paintball is not an activity which qualifies as a contact sport. Plaintiffs contend that under either standard, they presented substantial evidence to submit the case to the jury.

II. Scope of Review.

Our scope of review is for correction of errors at law. Iowa R.App. P. 4; Podraza v. City of Carter Lake, 524 N.W.2d 198, 202 (Iowa 1994). We review the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant and determine whether sufficient evidence existed to warrant submission of the issues to a jury. Podraza, 524 N.W.2d at 202. This requires us to consider whether reasonable minds could differ on the issues in controversy. Id.

III. Analysis.

In this appeal we must determine whether the district court applied the proper standard of care to the plaintiffs' claim regarding the defendant's actions in shooting the plaintiff.3 There is no reported

601 N.W.2d 79
Iowa case concerning the duty of care owed by one participant in a contact sport to another participant. In Dudley v. William Penn College, 219 N.W.2d 484 (Iowa 1974), we considered a personal injury action brought by a collegiate baseball player against his coach and the college after he was struck by a foul ball. We observed
[P]layers in athletic events accept the hazards which normally attend the sport....
What the law regards as unreasonable risk of harm to players is somewhat unique in athletic contests, since risks naturally attend such events. Hence the cases involving successful plaintiffs are not plentiful. Most injuries in athletic contests result from the rough and tumble of the game itself.

Dudley, 219 N.W.2d at 486 (citations omitted). Although the negligence of another player was not at issue in Dudley, the above language indicates we recognize a participant in an athletic event assumes certain risks normally associated with the activity.

In analyzing plaintiffs' claim regarding Chad's conduct in shooting Eric, we must balance on one side the interest in promoting vigorous athletic and sporting competition and the interest in protecting those who participate in those events on the other. The majority of jurisdictions that have considered this issue have concluded that personal injury cases arising out of an athletic event must be predicated on reckless disregard of safety. See, e.g., Hackbart v. Cincinnati Bengals, Inc., 601 F.2d 516 (10th Cir.1979); Nabozny v. Barnhill,...

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10 practice notes
  • Madison v. Ibp, Inc., No. Civ. 4-96-CV-20712.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States State District Court of Southern District of Iowa
    • December 28, 1999
    ...risk of harming Madison's case, or that harm to her litigation efforts was highly probable to follow its actions. See Leonard v. Behrens, 601 N.W.2d 76, 80 (1999) (discussing recklessness standard). IBP's acts were more than mere This finding served as the basis for Instruction 7, dealing w......
  • Benjamin Feld v. Borkowski, No. 07-1333.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • October 22, 2010
    ...sports from constraining their actions under the conventional duty to act as a reasonable person. See Leonard ex rel. Meyer v. Behrens, 601 N.W.2d 76, 81 (Iowa 1999). 1 In finding the game of paintball to be a contact sport in Leonard, we imposed a duty for participants in the sport to mere......
  • Nixon v. Clay, No. 20170532
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Utah
    • July 11, 2019
    ..."rule[ ] infractions and mishaps are virtually inevitable" in sports where bodily contact is inherent. Leonard ex rel. Meyer v. Behrens , 601 N.W.2d 76, 81 (Iowa 1999). Contact, both permitted by the rules and sometimes contrary to the rules, is a known and accepted risk of many sports. And......
  • Lukken v. Fleischer, 20-0343
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 30, 2021
    ...elements generally track the definition of recklessness in the Restatement (Second) of Torts. See Leonard ex rel. Meyer v. Behrens , 601 N.W.2d 76, 80 (Iowa 1999) (per curiam) (relying on the definition of "recklessness" in the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 500, at 587 (Am. L. Inst. 1965)......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
10 cases
  • Madison v. Ibp, Inc., No. Civ. 4-96-CV-20712.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States State District Court of Southern District of Iowa
    • December 28, 1999
    ...risk of harming Madison's case, or that harm to her litigation efforts was highly probable to follow its actions. See Leonard v. Behrens, 601 N.W.2d 76, 80 (1999) (discussing recklessness standard). IBP's acts were more than mere This finding served as the basis for Instruction 7, dealing w......
  • Benjamin Feld v. Borkowski, No. 07-1333.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • October 22, 2010
    ...sports from constraining their actions under the conventional duty to act as a reasonable person. See Leonard ex rel. Meyer v. Behrens, 601 N.W.2d 76, 81 (Iowa 1999). 1 In finding the game of paintball to be a contact sport in Leonard, we imposed a duty for participants in the sport to mere......
  • Nixon v. Clay, No. 20170532
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Utah
    • July 11, 2019
    ..."rule[ ] infractions and mishaps are virtually inevitable" in sports where bodily contact is inherent. Leonard ex rel. Meyer v. Behrens , 601 N.W.2d 76, 81 (Iowa 1999). Contact, both permitted by the rules and sometimes contrary to the rules, is a known and accepted risk of many sports. And......
  • Lukken v. Fleischer, 20-0343
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 30, 2021
    ...elements generally track the definition of recklessness in the Restatement (Second) of Torts. See Leonard ex rel. Meyer v. Behrens , 601 N.W.2d 76, 80 (Iowa 1999) (per curiam) (relying on the definition of "recklessness" in the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 500, at 587 (Am. L. Inst. 1965)......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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