• Maker of Louisville Slugger bats found liable in baseball death Monday, November 2, 2009

    The maker of Louisville Slugger baseball bats has been ordered to pay $792.000 to the family of a teenager who died during a baseball game in 2003.  A Helena, Montana, jury found Hillerich & Bradsby Co. failed to provide adequate warning of the danger resulting from the use of the company’s aluminum bats.

    The verdict adds to an ongoing controversy in youth, high school and college baseball about whether the use of wooden bats should be required as a safety measure.  A study by a physicist at Michigan’s Kettering University found balls hit by aluminum bats  travel faster than balls hit by wooden bats, giving pitchers just 60 feet away from the batter less time to react to a ball hit at them.

    The National Collegiate Athletic Association requires aluminum bats be certified through lab testing to demonstrate they can’t hit a ball at an unsafe speed, and the organization is in the midst of changing its testing procedures to make them more accurate.

    The Montana case stems from the death of 18-year-old Brandon Patch during an American Legion game in Helena.  Patch was pitching for the Miles City (Mont.) team when he was hit in the temple by a ball hit by a member of the Helena Senators.  The jury made the award to compensate Patch’s mother for Brandon’s lost earnings and for his pain during the four hours before he died.  Patch’s parents were also awarded $58,000 for their grief and funeral expenses.

    Hillerich & Bradsby officials said the jury returned “an emotional verdict” and said the bat in question had been approved by baseball’s governing organizations.  Vice president for corporate communications Rick Redman called the verdict “an indictment of the entire sport of baseball,” adding, “Anyone who has ever played the game, or any sport for that matter, understands there are risks inherent in baseball and the object is to use a bat, whether wood or aluminum, to hit the ball hard.”

    While aluminum bats are banned from use in professional baseball, most amateur teams use them to save money.  Traditional wooden bats often break, whereas a team can get by for years with just a handful of aluminum bats.

    Hillerich & Bradsby has been the defendant in a number of other cases nationally stemming from serious injuries to pitchers who were hit by a ball that had been struck by an aluminum bat.  A Chicago high school student who suffered serious head injuries in 2000 reached an undisclosed settlement with the company, as did a University of Southern California pitcher who suffered a fractured skull in 1999.  A federal jury in Oklahoma awarded $150,000 in 2002 to a teenager who suffered severe head injuries.  A suit involving another injured Oklahoma teen has been filed in state court.  And the family of a New Jersey 12-year-old sued H & B after the boy suffered brain damage that has left him wheelchair-bound; his heart stopped when he was hit in the chest by a line drive and he was unable to breathe for 15 minutes.

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