Thursday, October 29, 2009

A batty verdict?

Puns aplenty I'm sure regarding the Montana jury award of $850K to the parents of an 18-year-old pitcher killed when an ball from an aluminum bat hit his head during a game. (Via Bashman.)

The verdict against Louisville Slugger was premised on its failure to warn that aluminum bats supposedly return the ball faster than wooden bats.

I'd seen this suit mentioned at the Volokh blog, where I predicted a Montana jury wouldn't buy that theory. Oopsie. Bound to go up on appeal.

This comment at the Volokh thread is worth noting:
Everyone who plays baseball knows that the ball comes faster off an aluminum bat than off a wooden bat. They’re not used in pro baseball for that reason — somebody can get killed when, say, Ryan Howard hits a 98 mph fastball. Metal bats are used in amateur baseball because people don’t usually hit them that hard. Kids (up through college) like aluminum bats because they hit the ball harder and farther than they can with wood, and because they’re much cheaper over the long run.

The NCAA has a BESR (bat exit speed ratio) test to which bats must conform to be used in college play. The people who set the standards have to balance safety issues against the fact that the whole point of a bat is to hit the ball hard. (Hollow plastic would be much safer but the game wouldn’t be quite the same.) They also have to take into account cost — most amateur teams these days couldn’t afford to play with wooden bats, since they break so frequently. Maple bats don’t break as often as ash, but they’re more expensive and more dangerous when they do break. Composite wood and bamboo bats break less often, but (like aluminum) cause the ball to be hit harder. Everything is a tradeoff.
If "everyone who plays baseball" knows this, then the fault would seem not to lie with Louisville Slugger, but with the league that picked the aluminum bats for older teen players. Of course, that's not where the deep pockets were.

And we don't know what the expert testimony was -- the parents might've found someone to contradict the "everyone knows" meme, or the defense might've treated the case as too absurd to defend seriously (like McDonald's on the hot-coffee suit).

That said, it would not've been hard for Louisville Slugger to put a safety warning on its aluminum bats -- part of the plastic wrap around the bat, perhaps -- and it would've saved them a million dollars in this case (allowing for litigation costs).

Still, the parents might do well to settle this case pending appeal.

(See another comment from a coach who won't let his kids play with aluminum bats.)

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