Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Louisville Slugger Strikes Out in Helena, Montana

“The timorous may stay at home,” wrote Justice Cardozo in 1929 on the inherent risks of sports.

The general rule has developed that a participant assumes the ordinary risks inherent in a sport. In short, if you play baseball, you assume the risks inherent in baseball. We call it assumption of risk. That includes being struck by a hit ball.

Sadly, and tragically, Brandon Patch did not stay at home in 2003. The 18 year old pitched in an American Legion game. The batter hit the ball directly at Brandon, who could not react in time to avoid being fatally struck by the ball.

The bat was a Louisville Slugger aluminum bat, which provides more bat speed than a wooden bat.

The family sued for wrongful death, survival of action, and emotional distress, alleging the aluminum bat was defective for failure to warn of the dangers of aluminum versus wood.

A Helena, Montana jury held for plaintiff last Wednesday, awarding $792,000 to the estate and $58,000 to his parents with the judge reserving a decision on possible punitive damages.

The jury held the manufacturer, Hillerich & Bradsby Co., failed to warn of the dangers of aluminum bats, resulting in the death of Brandon. However, the jury held the bat was not inherently defective, which is an inherently contradictory opinion.

Bat speed. If I had bat speed as a youth, not to mention eye-hand coordination, quick reflexes, and athleticism, I might have been able to hit the ball out of the infield.

In the decades since then, as with other sports, the players got bigger, quicker, and stronger. Bat speed increased, as did pitching speed. The athletes are better.

And the aluminum bat replaced the wooden bat in amateur baseball and softball. Not only does it improve performance, but it saves teams substantial sums of money. While an individual aluminum bat costs more than a wooden one, aluminum bats outlast the wooden competitors, which are prone to shattering.

Aluminum bats may be more dangerous than wooden bats, but so too are juiced batters, strong batters, and slow pitchers.

Wooden bats are also dangerous, and pose a major risk of hitting the batter. In addition, the flying shads from broken bats pose a major risk to players on the field, and fans in the stands.

Swinging at a 90-100mph fastball is a dangerous act that puts others at risk. The timorous may stay at home.

Batters are expected to not intentionally aim to hit the pitcher, but it happens all the time. A pitcher lacking good reflexes is a sitting duck, whether the bat is aluminum or wooden.

If you want to play baseball, assume the risks.

Realistically, no warning would have made a difference. The players well understand the risks of baseball, as do the fans. Players, coaches, umpires, and fans are struck quite often in baseball and softball by line drives and broken wooden bats. Some unfortunately die, indeed 39 from 1989 to 2006.

A warning on the bat, or on the bat’s box, would not directly have benefited the pitcher.

The law also does not require a warning when the person is already aware of the risks. An 18 year old, playing baseball, can reasonably be expected to appreciate the risks of baseball. If not, he’s an idiot.

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