Pitcher hit by line drive, jury awards $900K against bat maker

by Walter Olson on December 19, 2011

“Last Friday an Oklahoma federal jury awarded a pitcher $871,000 in actual damages (and gave his parents $80,095.85 in actual damages) for an aluminum bat that allegedly was defectively designed and contained insufficient warnings. The case is styled Yeaman v. Hillerich & Bradsby Co., Case No. CIV-10-1097-F (W.D. Okla.).” [Russell Jackson] Earlier here, here, here, etc.

{ 22 comments }

1 peter 12.19.11 at 10:44 am

And the obvious results of this are……

1. ever more disclaimers (that no-one reads anyway)
2. less bat manufacturers
3. more expensive bats (to pay for liability insurance)
4. even richer lawyers.

and a close 5. Even less Baseball being played by kids.

Well done everyone!

2 Ron Miller 12.19.11 at 12:53 pm

Of course, you did not hear the evidence in the case, Peter. And it may well be that you left off #6 which is, less young boys with brain injuries.

I suspect that the world will eventually come to see that wooden bats are more fun (crack of the bat alone will be great) and the world will continue to rotate on its axis. There were lots of people issuing the same proclamations when child seats came out and now no reasonable person – correct me if I’m wrong – disagrees.

In my humble opinion the world is getting safer and this is a good thing.

Again, it is important to note that you have no idea what the evidence showed. But one jury not only thought it was enough for negligence, they thought punitive damages were appropriate. I’ll bet anything a lot of these jurors thought the case was going to be garbage until they heard the actual evidence.

3 antiredistributionist 12.19.11 at 1:41 pm

Please provide links to the “same proclamations” re: child seats.

4 Mannie 12.19.11 at 1:42 pm

From the referenced article:

Dillon sued the company that made the Louisville Slugger Exogrid bat that the batter had been swinging, arguing that the bat had two defects. The design defect was, essentially, that it allowed balls to be hit at speeds that give pitchers insufficient time to react and protect themselves. The warning defect allegedly was the failure to place a sticker on the bat stating that balls can leave the bat at speeds that can give players no opportunity to react, potentially causing serious injury or death.

The problem with this lawsuit is that it did not identify an actual defect. The bat did precisely what it was intended to do — allow the batter to propel the ball with power. Notably, there was no evidence that the bat caused the ball to travel faster than a wooden bat would have done.

It seems to me that the bat did what it was designed to do.

5 mitch 12.19.11 at 1:47 pm

Mr. Miller

Unless Mr. Jackson’s post is full of lies, we have a good idea of what the evidence was.

6 Jason Barney 12.19.11 at 2:15 pm

Time now to sue all the auto manufacturers for designing passenger vehicles to travel well in excess of the speed limits, thereby increasing the frequency and severity of accidents. Won’t someone please think of the children?

7 Jim Collins 12.19.11 at 2:34 pm

When I played high school baseball, we did specific weight training to strengthen muscles to increase bat speed.
It seems to me that the restrictions need to be placed on the ball, not the bat. It was the ball that did the damage. I can’t understand how a 97 MPH restriction can be engineered into a bat. I wonder if anybody clocked the speed at which the pitcher threw the ball? Velocity is velocity. I fail to see where a wooden bat would have made any difference.

8 Ron Miller 12.19.11 at 3:28 pm

Jim, anyone who has played with an aluminum bat and a wooden bat will tell you there is a big difference. I really don’t think that is in dispute.

As for the comment about child safety seats, does anyone think there was not opposition? One day someone woke up and said, “There should be a law” and everyone readily agreed? I need to find a site for this proposition?

As for someone’s article telling you what the evidence was, I guess I would like to know if he sat through the trial and heard all of the evidence. Obviously, the jury found something infuriating here.

Ultimately, I don’t pretend to “know” whether aluminum bats should be banned and their should be liability for their injuries. I’m a plaintiffs’ lawyer. If that case came to me, I would turn it down without a thought (even after reading this post) based on what I know. But if I sat on a jury now, knowing what I know, I still would be unsure of what the evidence would show.

Too many people read the tea leaves based on their political views and don’t bother to look at the evidence.

9 Bill Alexander 12.19.11 at 4:13 pm

I image the jury did not feel the bat was defective, but felt the boy should get compensated, and the bat manufacturer was the likely sucker.

10 mjs 12.19.11 at 4:24 pm

Jury decisions are almost always myopic. They see the sympathetic, injured party versus the deep-pocket , souless corporation, feel empowered to grant a big payday, and render judgement accordingly.

There is no skin off their nose, no tax payer funds are involved, and maybe- just maybe-they too will have a similar scenario where another jury can return the favor…………

11 Joseph 12.19.11 at 4:56 pm

I don’t understand how a warning sticker would be helpful. I doubt the pitcher could read it while standing 60′ 6″ away from the bat.

12 gasman 12.19.11 at 5:19 pm

How can it be that the bat is defective for the purpose for which it was designed, to hit a ball as far and as fast as it can? The batter performed well also, hitting the ball with great speed too. Perhaps the pitcher was defective (poor technique in his throwing position after release, insufficient protective wear), or the ball, or the league since reduced injury factor balls are available but often banned by leagues.

I can imagine the warnings on that model of bat:
“Warning, this bat may cause injury to the opposing team. Nearly $1 million in damage and counting.” It’s like the warning on viagra about erections lasting longer than 4 hours…

13 John Burgess 12.19.11 at 5:22 pm

What Bill Alexander said. Given that the award was <$1.million, I think the jury was skeptical of the claim. Not as skeptical as a $1 award–there is an injured child after all–but enough to not give a total bonanza to the claimants.

14 antiredistributionist 12.19.11 at 5:46 pm

The fact that a jury “found something infuriating” does not necessarily indicate anything about what the evidence showed. Do you think the jury was correct in every case you’ve lost?

As for the child safety seat issue, there is a vast difference between post hoc imposition of liability and a legislative or regulatory requirement that people use a certain product, so the “analogy” was defective at the outset. Others can judge for themselves the significance of a blithe invocation of an unsubstantiated and faulty comparison.

15 gitarcarver 12.19.11 at 6:12 pm

Jim, anyone who has played with an aluminum bat and a wooden bat will tell you there is a big difference. I really don’t think that is in dispute.

As someone who has stood behind the plate with thousands of pitches coming at my face, there is a difference. Is that difference big when it comes to exit velocity off the bat? No.

The difference is two fold. First, the bats in 2006 had a bigger sweet spot then wooden bats and also the new metal bats of today. That means in 2006, more balls were “hot on the screws.”

But there has been another massive change that no one talks about and that is the finishing position of the pitcher.

Once pitchers would bend their front knee meaning the body was planted and ready to defend a hit ball. Now, pitchers lock the front knee to get a whip effect from their arm. The result is a faster fast ball, but the pitcher is off balance and cannot do anything to catch or get out of the way.

Up until the 1980′s pitchers that threw in the 90′s were the exception, not the rule. Now it is the other way around. Pitchers throw much more consistently in the 90′s – even at the high school level.

Everyone talks about the bat, but no one is willing to say diddly squat about the finishing position of the pitcher. Even in the pros we see pitchers who cannot defend themselves because they are so off balance when the batter strikes the ball.

It is easy to blame the bat company but I would bet dollars to doughnuts the injured player had the same type of bat in his bag, and was finishing in a position where he was off balance.

Both the use of the bat and the finishing position were approved by the parents and while I sympathize with the kid, the fact is that he and his parents are just as much to blame for the accident as the bat.

Maybe even more so.

16 D 12.19.11 at 6:44 pm

Amen, gitarcarver. My father and I had this very conversation this past spring. That’s probably the most important root cause. Lack of or presence of a label would/will have no effect on the outcome.

Here’s another problem with wooden bats – their weight distribution makes them too heavy. It is hard for little kids to move that kind of weight. They are slow enough with an aluminum bat, which has a hollow end and more of the weight nearer the handle. A wooden bat has more of the weight near the end. That difference in moment of inertia makes a wooden bat nearly impossible to swing for a lot of children.

17 J.T. Wenting 12.20.11 at 5:27 am

another BIG problem with wooden bats is splinters. They may break, causing splinters to injure kids.
More liability lawsuits…

Of course this too is a highly unlikely event, but that won’t stop lawyers for liability insurance companies from claiming it may happen and therefore wooden bats should not be used.
End result: no more baseball bats!

18 Ron Miller 12.20.11 at 9:58 am

1. To your comment, Anti, I don’t think juries are right in every case. But they are more likely to be right than wrong. If you disagree, let’s tear up 400 years of jurisprudence and start over again. The Constitution makes a big deal about jury trials.

2. The idea that juries are dumb but people with nothing better to do then write blog comments (ooops, that’s me too, shoot) are somehow smarter than Joe Average is the kind of paternalism that blog (I think) stands against.

3. “Jury decisions are almost always myopic.” More of the same… Americans are too dumb. Some of them are not even landowners, how do they get on a jury? Why are we letting them vote, too? Where is King George when we need him?

4. To pretend that a purpose of a warning would be for the pitcher to see the warning on the bat completely confuses the purpose of a warning.

5. The splinter risk is, of course, just made up. But, certainly, you understand the difference between a splinter and a brain injury.

19 gitarcarver 12.20.11 at 1:58 pm

The splinter risk is, of course, just made up.

Are you sure about that?

http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20100919&content_id=14847072&vkey=news_mlb&c_id=mlb

And if you don’t think metal bats shatter, you haven’t been on the ball field in some time.

As for your assertion that juries are not dumb, that is not what is being said. What is being said is the bat was legal and was used in a normal way. The pitcher knew the risks and went out there.

The jury may have seen an injured kid and awarded money based on their sympathy. That is a normal feeling and understandable. It is wrong, but understandable. The main issue is “what could the maker of the product done differently?” The answer is “nothing.”

People get hit in metal bat leagues and in wooden bat leagues, Ron. Things happen and despite you wanting to believe you can legislate and litigate all risk out of every activity, you cannot.

20 Bob Neal 12.20.11 at 2:41 pm

The splinter risk isn’t made up. You understand where throat guards came from? A catcher ended up with a wooden bad lodged in his throat. Wooden bats break and cause injury.

21 antiredistributionist 12.20.11 at 3:46 pm

Mr. Miller -

“More likely to be right than wrong” is not a reassuring standard.

The fact is – though you may not want to admit it – many plaintiff’s lawyers rely on juries deciding cases on sympathy and prejudice rather than the facts and the law.

22 gitarcarver 12.20.11 at 4:19 pm

The played Bob speaks of is Steve Yeager. Yeager was in the on-deck circle in the 7th inning at Dodger Stadium with Bill Russell at bat. A piece of Russell’s bat shattered and hit Yeager in the neck, piercing his esophagus. He had nine pieces of wood removed from his neck in 98 minutes of surgery.

Yeager could not play with the risk of getting hit in the area again and the famous “Yeager Device,” was born. Youth and High School leagues require the use of such a throat protector, even on the hockey style face masks.

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