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Watchdog column: Homeowner cries foul over ball damage (w/video)

By Jessica Priest
Nov. 30, 2013 at 5:30 a.m.

Crystal Garcia stands at the end of her driveway while speaking about the baseballs that travel from the field across the street onto her property in Cuero. Her home lies directly across the street from the field and stray balls cause damage to her property.

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A Cuero homeowner thinks it may be too late for her to benefit from a baseball association's $1 million liability insurance policy.

In the past three years, Crystal Garcia has doled out about $2,000 to replace windows on her house and on her car that were broken by foul balls coming from a baseball field across the street from her home on East Church Street.

Each window costs about $250 to replace, she said.

"I never wanted to rock the boat," Garcia said, but her insurance dropped her after she made too many claims because neither the association nor the city would accept blame.

"My house is ground zero," she said.

Garcia, who lives in Rockport, rents the home.

Since she purchased the home five years ago, she said activity at the field has increased.

Garcia wonders why a net to catch the balls was not installed after City Council members brought up the idea months ago.

City officials recently asked the Cuero Baseball Association for Teenagers to obtain the liability insurance policy, even though the policy was a requirement listed in its August 2012 lease of the field.

"In May of last year, we lost our city secretary. It (the insurance requirement) just got lost in the shuffle," City Manager Raymie Zella said.

The association's president, Kenneth Boothe, estimated that volunteers already have raised $250,000 to renovate the more than 90-year-old field.

"The dugout was bad. There was no sprinkler system. The infield was horrible," he said.

Boothe said installing a net, in addition to the existing 8-foot-tall fences, is not in the association's budget.

Boothe said he's not mad at Garcia for complaining. The players try to be courteous, which is why someone from the press box watches where the balls land and goes to retrieve them.

"We stay after every game and clean up. ... This is the first person who has ever complained," Boothe said. "If you buy a house near a baseball field, it's like buying a house by a golf course."

It was unclear Wednesday whether the association's policy covers the actions of its players.

The association's insurance provider, Paula Z. Dromgoole, declined to comment, and Boothe could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Russell Janecka, of the Janecka Insurance Agency in Victoria, interpreted the association's policy.

The lease agreement is standard for municipalities and holds the lessee harmless for whatever happens there, he said.

Although the association's policy covers maintenance of the premise and incidents that could arise from the property, Janecka was not sure one could claim the association was negligent for a fly ball damaging a house.

"The circumstances will dictate whether or not coverage can be provided," he said.

For example, a landowner is not always considered to be negligent when an animal ventures from their land onto a roadway and causes a wreck.

But if it is determined that the cow that caused the wreck belongs to the landowner, he or she could be held responsible because it was not kept in a fenced-in area, Janecka said.

Janecka recommended a person who sustains damage to his or her home from a fly ball contact association leaders. If the association's insurance will not cover the damage, one should next seek out the parents of the player who hit the ball.

"If there's a message to give John Q. Public, I would say it's beneficial for everyone to have personal liability, which is under their homeowner's insurance policy," Janecka said.

Renters can also purchase insurance that would cover their actions. Renters' insurance can cost anywhere from $100 to $300 a year.

"Everybody ought to provide themselves with that because things do just happen out of the blue," Janecka said.

Tiffany Kurtz, a Cuero day care owner, said the association's liability insurance is a step in the right direction.

In March, Kurtz was driving down Fain McDougal Drive, which runs in between the ball park and Garcia's house, to run errands when a foul ball hit her windshield with such force it caved in about 2 to 3 inches. She was so startled she almost ran into the association's fence.

"I thought somebody was shooting at me," Kurtz said, describing how the glass covered her hands and legs.

Volunteers at the field led her to believe there was nothing they could do about the situation.

She said she "lucked out" when her car insurance policy paid $300 to replace the windshield.

"I was just more worried about the balls hitting someone else," Kurtz said Wednesday.

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