Orville Paul Dunagan and Bryan Coleman are friends. Scratch that. They were friends, neighbors and longtime softball buddies and teammates in a slow-pitch league in East Dallas. The moment their bond began to dissolve, on June 21, 2005, is now immortalized in Dallas County court records.
That's the day Dunagan beaned Coleman with a pitch during pre-game warmups, knocking out four teeth, shattering his upper and lower bone plates. Coleman underwent two surgeries to remove tooth fragments and some intensive orthodontia.
Here's how the incident was described by the Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas:
One evening, before the start of the first game of the season, Dunagan asked Coleman to catch a few pitches from him because he had not pitched in several weeks and he needed to "locate the plate." Coleman agreed and got into the catcher's position behind home plate. Dunagan threw a series of underhanded pitches which Coleman caught and threw back. Dunagan then pitched two overhand curve balls, the first of which came close to hitting an umpire standing nearby. Before each pitch, Dunagan signaled that he was throwing a curve ball. Coleman testified that, after the second curve ball, he heard the umpire say "Hey," which indicated to Coleman that Dunagan needed to stop throwing overhand. According to Coleman, he shook his head and the ball at Dunagan in an effort to communicate this and resumed his crouching position behind the plate.
Coleman testified that, after he resumed the crouching position, he was watching the other players mingle around when he noticed Dunagan kick his leg up to pitch. Dunagan then threw a hard rising fast ball which Coleman attempted to catch but missed. The ball hit Coleman in the mouth causing significant injuries. Coleman stated he did not have enough time to react to the pitch. A fellow player testified that Coleman told him he was wearing a new glove that was shorter than his old glove which may have led to him missing the catch. Dunagan acknowledged that he gave no signal to indicate the type of pitch he was throwing before throwing the fast ball.
Coleman sued his friend, claiming Dunagan was guilty of negligence and reckless conduct for throwing the pitch overhand "in a very fast, aggressive manner"; throwing it "at a dangerous rate of speed"; "fail[ing] to adhere to the clearly established rules of the sport"; and "fail[ing] to inquire about [Coleman]'s ability as a catcher," among other things. A jury sided with Coleman, awarding him $500,000.
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Unfortunately for Coleman, it doesn't look like he'll be able to collect. A Dallas appeals court on Monday reversed the judgment, ruling the jury had messed up. There was no reckless conduct, and mere negligence absent of intent or malice isn't enough to make a person liable for a sports injury.
You only thought slow-pitch was safe.
(h/t 600 Commerce)
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.