22 milliseconds = $850K

A big products liability award for the family of a dead American Legion pitcher and against the maker of an aluminum bat company:

Attorneys for Hillerich & Bradsby Co. argued any other bat would not have hit the ball differently; in fact, they said, most bats on the market at the time would have struck the ball harder. Patch’s death was a tragic accident, they said. The defense lawyers declined comment after the verdict was read.

Baseballs hit with aluminum bats, such as the one used in that American Legion game, only give pitchers milliseconds to respond in a defensive stance, the plaintiffs said. Plaintiff’s attorney Joe White said the average time needed by a pitcher to defend a batted ball is 400 milliseconds. Patch had 378 milliseconds to respond, he said.

I’ve never read the pleadings in this case and I’m not a products lawyer, so I have no idea if this is a crazy verdict or not. I will say, however, that I’m pretty dubious about such claims in general. And I say that even though I’m generally anti-aluminum bat.

UPDATE: to clarify: my general position on this is that aluminum bats are either inherently safe with proper use or inherently unsafe and are incapable of proper use that won’t cause injury. The presence or absence of a warning, or a milisecond difference between reaction times off of various aluminum bats does not seem like it would render the bat either safe or unsafe to use. As such, these kinds of bats should either be banned, or else we should accept comebackers to the mound as accidents, however unfortunate they might be.

(link via BTF)

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  1. APBA Guy said...

    I’m not familiar with the facts of this case, but as an attorney, is it your general impression that in cases like this both the verdict and the award size are more often emotional on the jury’s part, rather than rational?

    I mean, get the sobbing parents on the stand, show pictures of the fair haired boy, vilify the bat makers as greedy and knowingly reckless(ie, practically a tobacco company) and here’s a winning verdict.

  2. mgflolox said...

    Bat technology has come a long way in the last few years. These current missile launchers are a far cry from the pipes we used in little league & high school. They use the most advanced alloys to make the shell as thin as possible to maximize trampoline effect. Some have 2-piece construction for more flex and greater whip effect. And don’t even get me started on the composite models. Bat manufacturers are always trying to increase the performance of their bats to gain an edge on the competition. They test bats and try to regulate the speed of ball coming off them, but there are always variances in each model. I’m afraid that it’s going to take a highly visible tragic event in the CWS on national TV to get people to wake up to the dangers of these high performance missile launchers.

  3. Aaron Moreno said...

    I think I agree with Craig, the bats are doing what they’re supposed to do. Either ban them, intentionally deaden them, or accept that this may happen.

  4. Hojo said...

    The NCAA and most (if not all) high school associations regulate the type of bats that can be used with the Ball Exit Speed Ratio. Which, in short, is the ratio of the speed of the ball leaving the bat relative to bat speed and pitch speed. More detail here: http://webusers.npl.illinois.edu/~a-nathan/pob/BESRWhitePaper.pdf. The maximum ratio allowed to be BESR Certified is 0.728.

    Now, I know that few, if any, players in American Legion or the NCAA can throw a 95 mph pitch to a hitter swinging the bat around 76.6 mph (MLB average bat speed), but if anyone can that would only give a pitcher 353 milliseconds to react (using the formula in the linked paper).

    From a non-lawyer, former high school ballplayer, coach, and umpire’s perspective a warning on the bat will not help prevent these accidents. Not even tougher standards or switching to wood bats would eliminate them entirely. In this case, it’s highly unlikely that the bat was “defective” and the company was building a bat that fell within the standards. I don’t think they should have been held responsible for the kid’s tragic death.

  5. ChuckO said...

    I can see no reason why the ball shouldn’t be softer in youth ball, and I consider American Legion ball to be youth ball, either that or change the specs on the bats so that they ball doesn’t come off of them quite as hard. I also wouldn’t be averse to the notion of requiring pitchers to wear headgear of some sort in youth ball. Yes, accidents do happen but some of them are preventable.

  6. Ron said...

    Huck Flener, former pitcher for the Blue Jays, lost an eye when hit by a linedrive to his face.

    That happened in the Mexican League, I believe. But it was a wooden bat.

    It’s not as tragic as a death, I know. But there are only two possibilities.  Accept that people might get hurt playing sports, or ban sports because people might get hurt playing them. 

    What about the fact that the kid (or his parents) voluntarily let him play, knowing what the danger was? Do they get held accountable for putting their kid in a dangerous situation?

  7. Wade said...

    Tragic to be sure.
    I’m not a lawyer, so I’ll pose the question to those who are – What’s going to happen when a kid is killed or maimed with a wooden bat?  I’m assuming that company attorneys and little league officials will soon be stampeding to put the kabosh on the use of all aluminum/ceramic bats. 

    Secondly, how often does this type of incident occur?  Given the number of games played by all age groups year round, I’d suspect that there would be more coverage about such tragedies if it indeed happened in more than .01% of games played(arbitrary number, of course).

    What will be the fall-out of the verdict?

    Please help me here, because I’m having a hard time delineating the legal differences between this horrific accident and suing for hot coffee spillage, suing for cigarette death, or suing for loss of eye due to carbonated beverage top popping.  Have people been unaware that metal/ceramic bats have less structural give at impact than a wooden bat for the last several decades?  Inherent danger is everywhere.  Is it not?

    * This was an emotion-free post.  I humbly, humbly ask for a similar response.  Thank you.

  8. Tony A said...

    Gotta go with APBA guy’s comment.  Really, there are certainly enough dangerous products on the market, and I’d never go along with the so called “torte reform” that the GOP wants, but in this case…someone needed to ask the plantiffs, “Are you and the other parents of America prepared to provide the kind of economic support that would allow non-professional leagues everywhere to use wood bats in place of aluminum?”  If not, then shut up and sit down, all you’re doing is threatening the continued existence of baseball in America…

  9. Jim C said...

    It’s not just the metal bats. Remember Bryce Florie and Mike Mussina, among others, getting hit and injured by line drives back to the mound. It’s part of the risk every player assumes when they get on the field. Several kids are killed each year, usually by balls hitting them in the chest, at a particular point in heartbeat rhythm. I pitched in an MSBL league for 15 years and had two close calls.  I consider myself lucky to have caught one right before it would have hit me in the nose, and just got out of the way of the other. It’s a tragedy for anyone to die on the field, but I don’t think it should be actionable.

  10. MJ said...

    Please help me here, because I’m having a hard time delineating the legal differences between this horrific accident and suing for hot coffee spillage…

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but the problem in the case wasn’t that she put hot coffee in her lap and it spilled, it was that McDonald’s had been repeatedly warned that the coffee they were brewing was excessively hot and could cause damage if spilled?

    “We should go back to the way baseball is supposed to be played,” she said.
    All teams should use wooden bats, the way professional players do, Debbie Patch added.

    Something tells me this woman doesn’t watch a lot of MLB games.  She should stick around for this WS and see how many times Rivera breaks a bat, and see what happens to these giant staves as they hurl through the air at 70+mph.  I’m sure we’ve all seen when they stick in the ground like javelins.  As Wade mentioned above, what’s going to happen when a wooden bat kills someone?

    Also, for you lawyers out there, if people are able to sue in instances like this, why stop at only when a child dies?  Why not sue for that comebacker that breaks your child’s nose?  Or the wild pitch that breaks an ankle?  Where does this stuff stop?

  11. The Rabbit said...

    Product liability cases such as these drive me crazy.  I believe these cases encourage those who want to legislate limited manufacturer liability awards which will result in the protection of the truly guilty corporations who manufacture defective products.
    My former career required me to track some of these cases.  I know that the initial decision gets the ink, however, many of the cases I’ve followed are overturned on appeal. This rarely gets published in the popular press.
    I am not a lawyer, therefore, I will pose this question to the lawyers: Are there any legal reasons that the manufacturer cannot appeal this verdict/award? I recognize that there may be practical (financial) reasons for a company to accept the verdict.

  12. Craig Calcaterra said...

    They can appeal and almost certainly will.  The vast majority of these are appealed and, if liability is not really in doubt (i.e. there’s not a good appealate argument at the defendant’s disposal) they’ll settle for less after the appellate papers are filed.  In many states the judge could step in and unilaterally lower the award.  Upshot: it will be a while before any money changed hands.

  13. Victor Milan said...

    Won’t the next scientific evidence that 22 milliseconds make any difference in human reactions be the first? 400 milliseconds is 4/10ths of a second.  378 milliseconds is … 4/10ths of a second.

    If I understand correctly there is research into human reaction times. Too bad the defense team couldn’t be bothered to hunt it up.

    Also, while I’m all for punishing negligence or active wickedness, isn’t there something a bit unseemly about how so many people rush to capitalize on the deaths of loved ones?

    By the way, I hate aluminum bats. I can’t watch college baseball because I can’t stand the nasty tinking sounds they make. I’m just a fan of reality.

  14. Rob² said...

    At some point, the technology will reach a point where the products are, in fact, too dangerous to use.  Is it at 378 ms?  328 ms?  I don’t know, but it seems like there must be a point somewhere.

    The whole idea of suing for compensation for the loss of a loved one is distasteful to contemplate, but if this leads companies to market “Little League” bats that are safer for kids, it’s probably worth it.

    And it also seems specious to claim that since people get hurt playing sports, we just have to accept the risk.  At all levels of every sport, risk of injury is minimized to reasonable extents.  Batting helmets, goalie masks, shoulder pads… These are all restrictions on players that we accept in an effort to minimize the risk of injury.  If we can make safer bats, why don’t we?  And if we don’t, why not?

  15. Mitch Brannon said...

    There is a book out there somewhere (maybe I heard about it on this website) that documents the surprisingly high amount of deaths due to baseball in America, many of them not by players but by fans, umpires, coaches, etc. I only read excerpts but it seemed very interesting, if tragic. The larger point is, we all accept a reasonable risk of death to do the things we love. And, we need tort reform.

  16. Jim C said...

    The NCAA started to look at regulating the power of the bats after a ludicrous final College World Series game that ended 21-14. Around that same time, ESPN got Phil Nevin, who was still in college, into a batting cage with some special equipment, the latest in metal bat technology, and a wood bat. With the metal bat, the ball was coming off the barrel consistently at around 115 mph. With the wood the highest speed measured was 94. We all know how little time a hitter has to react to a 94 mph pitch. What chance would a pitcher, or even a third baseman, have with a ball coming at him at 115?

  17. jason11 said...

    Why didn’t they sue the maker of the baseball as well?

    Certainly a nerf baseball would have caused a less severe injury and would have been survivable.

    The Doubleday brothers too, if they had made the distance from home plate to the mound an extra 20 feet, the extra reaction time would have made a difference.

    Lawsuits like this make me cringe even more than the horrible accident that brought us to where we are.

  18. J. McCann said...

    As silly as it might look, isn’t some kind of helmet a possibility?  Or maybe make pitcher’s hats out of that smart fabric that can only deform so fast.

  19. Rob² said...

    Assuming constant deceleration due to wind resistance (and 10% speed reduction over 60.5 ft), it takes a ball traveling off the bat at 94 mph 0.462 seconds to go 60’ 6”.  It takes 0.378 seconds to travel the same distance starting at 115 mph.

    That’s less than a tenth of a second difference using Phil Nevin’s data.

  20. Rob² said...

    To follow up, an 84 ms difference between aluminum bats and wooden bats using an NCAA hitter is 4 times the difference between this manufacturer’s bat and the average metal bat, as presented at trial.  Which means it’s a much greater relative risk to introduce metal bats at all, than to use the high-tech model instead of the old “pipes” we used to have.

    Although I will point out that my spreadsheet suggests that the time difference is greater at slower speeds (again, aluminum vs wood), which would imply that there’s actually a greater danger at Little League velocities than at NCAA/MLB velocities.

    Starting at 60 mph instead of 94 mph, the time difference is 0.132 seconds.

  21. Alan Nathan said...

    Rob:  It is more likely the relevant distance is about 53 or 54 ft, since the pitcher is about 5 ft in front of the rubber after release and the ball is hit 1-2 ft in front of the corner of home plate.  If I use 53.5 ft, then your 0.462 becomes 0.408 sec, assuming the speed off bat is 94 mph.  The 0.378 sec would correspond to a speed off bat of 101.5 mph.  Probably 10% loss over 53 ft is too much and is more like 9%. That will lower both results by about 0.5 mph.

  22. Alan Nathan said...

    Rob:  I am not sure where you got the 84 ms difference between wood and aluminum.  I don’t know where you got any of your numbers.  Please explain.

  23. Alan Nathan said...

    Here is an analysis that might interest you.  Suppose we agree that 0.400 sec is the minimum amount of time needed for a pitcher to react.  Suppose also that we will ban all bats that are capable of hitting a ball that has a shorter flight time to the pitcher than 0.400 sec.  What maximum speed off bat does that imply?  How far would such a ball travel if hit at a typical home run launch angle (30 deg).  Here is the answer (I assume 53.3 ft flight distance from contact to pitcher):

    Speed off bat:  95 mph
    Home run distance:  356 ft

    I dare say, if you eliminated all such bats, you would drastically change the game of baseball.

  24. Alan Nathan said...

    Just to followup on my earlier posting:  For bats approved for use in the NCAA, aluminum outperforms wood by a maximum of about 5 mph, or 5%.  That means the flight time difference is about 5% of 400 ms, or 20 ms.  That is 4x smaller than the 80 ms that Rob quoted.

  25. MoZer Bats said...

    This is an unfortunate event for everyone involved. I hope that all parties involved can now find peace and closure. custom wood baseball bats have definitely come a long way in making the game safer.

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