Baseball, Sports, Tort Reform

Do Baseball Bats Need Warning Labels?

Louisville slugger aluminum.JPGAt first blush, the judgment awarded to the parents of a fallen baseball player is enough to make a tort reformer vomit. The Helena Independent Record reports (gavel bang: Overlawyered):

After 12 hours of deliberation, a jury sided with the parents of former Miles City American Legion baseball pitcher Brandon Patch in a civil suit over the player’s death during a 2003 game in Helena.

Aluminum bat maker Hillerich & Bradsby Co. failed to provide adequate warning as to the dangers of the bat used by a Helena Senators player during the game, at least eight of the 12 Lewis and Clark County jurors agreed Wednesday.

Hillerich & Bradsby Co. was ordered to pay $792,000 to Patch’s estate, which is represented by his mother, Debbie Patch, who filed the suit.

The jury felt the bat makers should have had some kind of warning about the dangers of batted balls at high speeds.
Seriously? On first blush, this verdict makes me want to hunt down jury members, scream “warning, terrible judgments could result in you getting hit with a bat,” and play pepper using their eyeballs.
But in my homicidal fantasy, I’m hitting eyeball grounders with a wooden bat, not an aluminum one. Are aluminum bats different, in a way that might partially explain the verdict?
More details after the jump.

Aside from being a blight on the pastoral game of baseball, aluminum bats are more dangerous than wooden bats. They allow people to swing faster, which is a problem since power has so much to do with bat speed. This is the point the plaintiff’s lawyers made to the jury:

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.

Eyewitnesses called by the plaintiffs said they could not see the ball between the time it left the bat and when it ricocheted off Patch’s head. Patch collapsed on the mound. He died as a result of his injuries about four hours later.

But the bat makers contend that any ol’ bat would do essentially the same thing:

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.

This is why a warning makes sense. It’s ridiculous for bat manufacturers to run around saying there is no difference in danger between wooden bats and aluminum ones. It’s like tobacco manufacturers saying that cigarettes aren’t addictive and don’t cause cancer.
Once bat manufacturers admit that aluminum bats are inherently more dangerous, then we can go back to expecting a certain assumption of risk from little leaguers. But as long as they stick with this silly defense, I hope they keep getting lit up in court.
P.S. Lat here. Just want to point out there are multiple views on this case. Elie is not a tort law expert. Skadden partner J. Russell Jackson — who is, as a products liability lawyer and professor, and chair of the Products Liability Committee of the New York City Bar Association — writes: “[I]t is hard for me to fathom any warning that would have changed the conduct of the pitcher or the batter in a way to prevent this tragic injury.”
In addition, a panel of three experts convened by CNN expressed doubt about the soundness of the verdict (and noted that it may be appealed). One of the panelists, James Copland of the Manhattan Institute, notes that two-thirds of catastrophic injuries from baseball involve wooden rather than aluminum bats. Jim Copland also notes:

According to USA Baseball, there were 39 baseball-related fatalities from 1989 to 2006. The point is that such accidents happen — and no jury should be able to attach liability based on a silly failure-to-warn theory. Particularly when the warning in question contradicts the findings of the federal Consumer Products Safety Commission.

Okay, sorry for the interruption. You’ve heard both sides now. Let us know what you think in the comments.
Bat maker found liable for player’s death [Helena Independent Record]
Baseball bat maker loses suit [CNN]

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