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Thursday, October 29, 2009
22 milliseconds = $850KA 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.
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)
Posted by Craig Calcaterra at 12:47pm
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.
Posted 10/29 at 01:38 PM
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.
Posted 10/29 at 01:49 PM
Metal bats suck, but wi wood bats $40 and up ea, HS programs would not be able to purchase bats for a season.
Posted 10/29 at 01:53 PM
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.
Posted 10/29 at 01:59 PM
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.
Posted 10/29 at 01:59 PM
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.
Posted 10/29 at 02:00 PM
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?
Posted 10/29 at 02:13 PM
Tragic to be sure.
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.
Posted 10/29 at 02:18 PM
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…
Posted 10/29 at 02:24 PM
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.
Posted 10/29 at 02:33 PM
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?
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?
Posted 10/29 at 03:25 PM
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.
Posted 10/29 at 03:38 PM
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.
Posted 10/29 at 03:43 PM
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.
Posted 10/29 at 04:00 PM
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?
Posted 10/29 at 04:13 PM
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.
Posted 10/29 at 04:15 PM
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?
Posted 10/29 at 04:28 PM
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.
Posted 10/29 at 05:31 PM
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.
Posted 10/29 at 06:30 PM
Alan Nathan said...
Readers of this thread might be interested in some of the stuff and links I have posted at my web site regarding aluminum and wood bats:
Posted 10/29 at 06:45 PM