Montana Supreme Court Upholds $850K Award in Louisville Slugger Case
The Montana Supreme Court unanimously rejected an appeal on Thursday by the maker of Louisville Slugger baseball bats of a jury’s verdict that held the company liable in the death of a player struck by a ball during a 2003 game.
In upholding the October 2009 verdict that awarded $850,000 to the parents of Brandon Patch, the court ruled that the bat maker, Hillerich & Bradsby, is liable to all players in a baseball game for physical injury caused by its CB-13 model aluminum bat’s increased exit speed.
As the Associated Press reports via MercuryNews.com,
The parents of the former Miles City American Legion baseball pitcher sued the company in 2006 with a product liability claim, saying an ‘unreasonably dangerous’ metal bat caused his death and the manufacturer failed to warn the user of the dangers.
Patch’s parents had contended that their 18-year-old son did not have enough time to react to the ball being struck before it hit him in the head while he was pitching in an American Legion baseball game in Helena in 2003.
The Kentucky bat maker argued that Patch had assumed a risk by playing baseball and that he was not using the bat when he was struck. But the court’s ruling said, “The risk of harm accompanying the bat’s use extends beyond the player who holds the bat in his or her hands. A warning of the bat’s risks to only the batter standing at the plate inadequately communicates the potential risk of harm posed by the bat’s increased exit speed.”
In the 2009 case, the jury said the bat was not defective in design but the user was not properly warned of its dangers. In the Supreme Court’s ruling, Justice Michael Wheat wrote that the bat maker’s argument that the only method to provide a warning is directly on the bat was erroneous.
The justices said the company could have issued oral warnings or placed warnings in advertisements, posters, or press releases to alert all players to the potential risk of harm due to the bat’s increased exit speed.
Thursday’s ruling also rejected the bat company’s argument that Patch had assumed a risk by playing in the baseball game. The company had argued that Patch knew he could be hit and he had been hit before, but continued playing anyway.
But there was no evidence, the court said, that Patch knew he would be seriously injured or killed when pitching to a batter who was using one of Hillerich & Bradsby aluminum bats, and the company failed to show that Patch was aware of the risk.
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