“Bat maker found liable for player’s death”

by Walter Olson on October 29, 2009

A Montana jury decided that the aluminum baseball bat manufactured by “Louisville Slugger” maker Hillerich & Bradsby was not a defective product, but that the company should have warned of the dangers from its hitting balls at a higher speed, and awarded a family $850,000 for the 2003 death of their son at a baseball game. [Helena Independent Record, AP] Early commentary: Russell Jackson (doubting that a warning would actually have altered the behavior of those in the game) and Eugene Volokh (before verdict). Earlier here. More: Jim Copland discusses on CNN; Above the Law.

{ 12 comments }

1 Joseph 10.30.09 at 12:26 am

The jury thinks a warning sticker on the bat would have prevented this accident?

I really wonder what non-obvious warning the jury thinks should have been on that bat. Are there any interviews?

2 nevins 10.30.09 at 12:31 am

I’m thinking that any warning on the bat suggesting it is a danger to the players on the field would only tend to increase sales. It’s like the warning from Viagra an like drugs about the ‘risk’ of prolonged erection.

3 gitarcarver 10.30.09 at 12:58 am

After one of the College World Series (I think it was 1998) where the final game was just home run after home run, the NCAA sought to reduce the influence of bats in the game. The result was that the bat manufacturers threatened to sue the NCAA. (Under what premise I have no idea. It seems to me that the NCAA or any governing body, has the right to set the rules and regulations for the sport.)

Bat manufactures want the hyped up, thin walled, weight in the handle, two piece, trampoline bats to sell. Players want to use those bats as well.

Little League International has done a study on aluminum bats and found that there is no data that supports that aluminum bats are more dangerous than wooden bats. Other studies suggest otherwise.

I would have liked to see the actual video of the pitcher getting hit. Not that I want to see a young man get injured, but rather to see his “finishing position” after he released the ball. If he was not in a stable position and able to field the ball, then to some extent his motion contributed to this. Too often I see pitchers that cannot move, field or protect themselves after the pitch.

One thing is for certain, the original intent of aluminum bats was to save money for leagues. Now a bat can run upwards of $300 and not last a game. The original reason for the bats has long been lost.

4 Bumper 10.30.09 at 2:44 am

Walter, Please ask Jim Copland to read Ted’s treatise on the McDonald’s coffee case. He might have been able to correct the misconceptions of the moderator.

If this is what we have to look forward to then the jury system as we know it has failed and we should be looking for a replacement.

The only thing this jury (and now looks like the judge) were looking to do was give some money to a neighbor.

5 Lito 10.30.09 at 2:16 pm

How does a warning on the bat protect a pitcher or fielder?

6 Anderson 10.30.09 at 3:36 pm

The jury thinks a warning sticker on the bat would have prevented this accident?

Is that the legal standard? Or is it that a warning would have provided the opportunity to avoid the accident?

At the very least, the sticker would’ve shielded the mfr. and put liability squarely on the local league.

Many of the Volokh thread comments are useful for understanding how a fact issue existed in this case.

7 Bob Lipton 10.30.09 at 3:52 pm

And how would the warning be phrased?

WARNING: Hitting a person in the head with a bat or an object struck by a bat may be injurious to that person’s health.

Bob

8 Nathan Shumate 10.30.09 at 4:17 pm

I never used to be afraid of jury duty, but I am now — because odds are they’ll give me a lobotomy before they seat me. Seriously, where do they find these gullible, brainless asses?

9 Anderson 10.30.09 at 4:55 pm

Okay, make that “anyone who wants to actually learn something, rather than rejoice in the confirmation of his/her preconceptions, should look at the Volokh thread.” Here for instance.

There’s still an issue in my mind as to whether the greater danger from aluminum bats wasn’t so widely known as to be “open and obvious,” but I don’t know what the testimony at trial was, either. (Not that that stops other people who weren’t at the trial.)

10 gitarcarver 10.30.09 at 6:37 pm

Anderson,

The coach’s statements are right on some accounts and wrong on others. Yes, metal bats have a larger sweet spot but that doesn’t change the BESR and the COR standards. The bat still may not outperform a wooden bat by 5% at any point.

Secondly, the coach himself tries says “Even a casual glance at an issue of Baseball America (the bible of the business) will show full-page ad after full-page ad of bats that are plainly not going to perform like a wood bat.” The fact that metal bats perform better than wooden bats is known, established and advertised.

In fact, I would love to know what the pitcher himself had in his gear bag. I guarantee it wasn’t a wooden bat. I guarantee he bought it because it performs better than a wooden bat.

Even if he didn’t have a metal bat in his bag, other players have metal bats in theirs. The coach somewhat glosses over the fact that players talk about gear, notice new gear, and exchange gear to see what feels better and performs better all the time.

PS – I too have coached successfully at the levels the Volkh commentator has, but I have umpired at those levels and higher. I flat out guarantee that I have been a participant of more games than the writer.

The idea that kids and parents don’t know that metal bats perform better than wooden bats doesn’t pass the smell test.

11 William Nuesslein 10.31.09 at 8:41 am

Wouldn’t the learned intermediary principle apply?

Obviously the lethality of the bat could have been mitigated by using nerf balls.

12 NickM 11.01.09 at 2:07 am

To a batter, “the ball will travel faster than normal if you use this bat” is not a warning, it’s a sales pitch.

On another issue, how can you have a duty to warn someone who is neither a purchaser nor a user of the item?

Nick

Comments on this entry are closed.