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Court Lets $850,000 Verdict Against Baseball Bat Maker Stand

Aluminum On Friday, a Montana state judge refused to throw out a recent jury verdict that found the maker of Louisville Slugger baseball bats was liable in the amount of $850,000 for the 2003 death of a baseball player during a game in Helena. In October, the jury found that Hillerich & Bradsby Co. failed to provide adequate warning as to the dangers of the bat, and that this failure caused the accident that killed 18-year-old pitcher Brandon Patch. Curiously, however, the jury also found that the bat was not defective in any way.

Ruling against the bat company on its motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, the Associated Press reports (via Bad Lawyer) that the court found that "in this case the jury may properly have inferred from the evidence that a warning would have been heeded and the failure to warn caused the injury." The bat company had argued that the law required the plaintiffs to produce evidence that had a warning been given, it would have caused Patch to take precautions to avoid injury. They argued that Patch's family had failed to prove this, but the court disagreed.

While pitching in an American Legion game, Patch was struck in the head by a line drive and, tragically, died hours later. An attorney for the plaintiffs said that Patch had just 378 milliseconds to respond to the line drive. Attorneys for Hillerich & Bradsby Co. argued that most bats on the market at the time would have struck the ball even harder. An executive for the company added that

The verdict that our company ‘failed to adequately warn of the dangers of the bat’ has left us puzzled. It seems contradictory for the jury to say the bat is not defective but our company failed to warn that it could be dangerous. It appears to be an indictment of the entire sport of baseball.

As someone who coaches two sons in Little League now and spends more time on baseball fields than I care to admit, this type of accident is very scary. The fact is that, even at the youth level, balls fly off of aluminum bats at very high rates of speed and occasionally do go right back at the pitcher. In my view, however, that is part of the game, and is a risk that is well known to anyone who has ever played or pitched. I agree with the bat company that a warning on a bat would have been meaningless, and find it hard to believe that this verdict will survive on appeal. If it does then, as the defendant stated, it is something of an indictment of the sport of baseball.

Posted by Bruce Carton on January 11, 2010 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

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