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Jury: Boy struck by bat shares blame

Kyle Southwick, 9, was seriously hurt when a baseball bat swung by another 9-year-old hit him in the head.

By CHASE SQUIRES

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 1, 2001


LUTZ -- A jury on Wednesday decided a 9-year-old boy suffered $100,000 in damages when he was accidentally smashed in the head with a baseball bat two years ago, but jurors also found that the child was 80 percent at fault.

As a result of the shared blame, and subtracting medical bills already paid, the boy's family likely will receive less than $10,000, the defendant's attorney said.

According to the Pasco County lawsuit, Kyle Southwick was playing at the Willow Bend home of George Clark, also 9, in May 1999. George was swinging a bat at a whirling batting practice machine in his driveway when Kyle got behind him, in the bat's path.

Kyle's attorney, Daniel Fernandez, said Kyle was struck on the left side of the head. He suffered a skull fracture and was taken to University Community Hospital by ambulance. His skull was at first stapled back together, then reopened later when he developed numbness on his right arm.

Kyle had to wear a protective helmet nearly around the clock for a year as doctors hoped the skull would heal. When the bones didn't knit together, a doctor implanted a plastic plate in his head, Fernandez said.

The child has mostly recovered but runs the ongoing risk of developing epilepsy, his attorney said.

Fernandez said George's father, Ray Clark, is a good person but was negligent when he allowed his child to play with the electric batting trainer unsupervised.

Attorney Richard Bowers, representing the Clark family, said the injury was the result of an accident, not negligence.

"This is an accident that could have happened anywhere, any time where kids are playing ball," Bowers told the jury.

After two days of testimony and closing arguments on Wednesday, jurors took about 90 minutes to return a verdict. They found damages in the amount of $60,000 for medical costs and $40,000 for pain and suffering, but ruled the Clark family was only 20 percent to blame.

Fernandez said the actual amount the Clarks will be asked to pay will be determined by Circuit Judge Wayne Cobb. Bowers said that after deducting medical costs already paid for by insurance and other sources, the Clarks' bill should come to $10,000 or less.

"Obviously, we do not think Mr. and Mrs. Clark did anything wrong," Bowers said. "But (jurors) reached a verdict and they will abide by that."

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