LA GRANDE — An Eastern Oregon University student whose skull was fractured during a softball practice in February 2010 is suing the university for almost $1 million.

The student, Holly Martin, claims she sustained life-changing injuries as a result of being struck in the head by a ball during practice at the university on Feb. 25, 2010, according to a complaint filed in January in Union County Circuit Court.

Martin’s suit says she suffers from permanent severe headaches, memory loss, inability to perform tasks requiring sustained attention, trouble with math and deductive reasoning, and more.

Eastern has filed an answer to the court complaint, saying any damages were caused by Martin’s own negligence. The university also says Martin waived her rights to claims of relief and contractually assumed the risk of injury by agreeing to participate in a collegiate level sport.

But Martin’s lawyer, Wayne Hawn of Bend, said Tuesday that terms of a liability waiver wouldn’t apply in Martin’s case because of the way the practice was run.

“The position this put her in went well beyond what would have been encountered at a normal softball practice,” Hawn said.

The suit alleges negligence on several counts, including one that says there should have been more distance between Martin and the batter.

“On a softball diamond the pitcher’s mound is about 40 feet from home plate. There’s a reason for that. The distance gives a pitcher time to react,” said Hawn.

Tim Seydel, vice president of University advancement at Eastern, said Wednesday he couldn’t comment on the case.

“Because it is in litigation, I can’t say anything,” Seydel said, though he added Eastern is “always concerned about the health and safety of students.”

According to the court complaint, Martin was pitching batting practice from a distance of 10 to 20 feet when a batter using a composite bat hit the ball back at her, striking her in the head behind the right ear. A section of chain link fence was being used as a protective shield, but the suit claims the barrier did not provide Martin with adequate protection.

Martin, who was not wearing a helmet, fell to the ground unconscious and bleeding from her ear, according to the complaint.

The complaint charges that Coach Mellissa Wheeler ignored players who urged that 9-1-1 be called, opting instead to call Jon Hart, a trainer.

It also says Eastern employees attempted to get Martin to her feet to walk to the training room, but Martin went only a couple of steps before falling back to the ground.

According to the complaint, Martin was transported on a golf cart to the training room. The suit alleges she was kept in the training room about two hours before Wheeler took her to the Grande Ronde Hospital in her personal car.

At the hospital, Martin was diagnosed with a longitudinal fracture of her right temporal bone. She was flown to Emmanuel Hospital in Portland for treatment.

According to the suit, Eastern employees failed to follow established head injury protocols after Martin was hit, failed to properly treat her, and failed to transport her to the hospital in a timely manner.

“Everything about the treatment she received after she was struck was unreasonable,” Hawn said.

As for the conduct of the batting practice, the suit alleges there wasn’t enough distance between the pitcher and batter, that Martin should have been required to wear a helmet, that she had to step out from behind chain-link screen to pitch the ball, and that the batter should not have been using a composite bat.

Martin, 22, was a sophomore at Eastern hoping to get a nursing degree at the time of the incident. She is a senior now but likely will not graduate this year. She could not be reached for comment by today’s press deadline.

Martin’s mother, Dawn Martin of Madras, said Wednesday she is the mother of six children, all of whom play sports. She said the fact that her daughter signed a liability waiver doesn’t get Eastern off the hook.

“I know athletes sign a waiver and there is a risk, but in this case proper measures weren’t taken,” she said.

Dawn Martin said she remains convinced Eastern employees didn’t take proper steps after her daughter was injured. She said that following the incident, she spent a frantic time on the phone, conferring with her daughter, Eastern employees and her personal doctor. Because of symptoms described to him, the doctor advised immediate transport to the hospital. Dawn Martin said the symptoms included blood coming from the ear, and vomiting.

“She had all the signs of a head concussion but they kept her there for over two hours,” she said. “My whole point is, why wasn’t 9-1-1 called? It took them two hours to call me, and then another half hour to get them to take her to the hospital.”

Holly Martin is seeking a judgment for up to $466,400 in economic damages and up to $500,000 in non-economic damages, plus costs, fees and other relief the court deems just.

Also among its defenses, Eastern is saying that Martin failed to provide a tort claim notice, and that her claim is barred in whole or in part because it was not within the time permitted by statute.

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