On July 25, 2003, 18-year-old pitcher Brandon Patch was struck in the head by a ball batted with a Louisville Slugger H&B CB-13 aluminium bat. As a result of the impact, Patch tragically died shortly thereafter.Patch’s family sought retribution and sued Louisville Slugger for inter alia designing a defective bat, manufacturing a defective bat, and failing to warn of its dangers. As a result of Patch’s personal injury lawsuit, a Montana court awarded the family $850,000 claiming Louisville Slugger failed to warn of the bat’s design which increased exit speed and velocity. There was videotape evidence of the incident that showed Patch had less than the average 0.4 seconds to react to the ball. The reaction time for this incident was 0.376 seconds. Louisville Slugger appealed the decision, and Judge Michael Wheat of the Supreme Court of the State of Montana denied the appeal and affirmed the district court’s ruling.
From a legal perspective and following the black letter of Montana State law, Montana got it right. However, from a practical standpoint, this judgment goes to the very heart of personal injury law. It is common knowledge that a company like Louisville Slugger would produce a bat that increases velocity, speed, and energy of a batted ball. After all, the goal of research and development is to produce a better quality item. Moreover, it is not unheard of for a pitcher to get hit by a batted ball. Additionally, the court did not allow Louisville Slugger to make an assumption-of-risk claim, saying that though Patch knew he could have been hit by a batted ball, there was no evidence that he knew he exposed himself to the danger of serious injury or death when facing the CB-13 bat.
In the context of the facts presented, would it have made a difference if Louisville Slugger contained a warning message on the CB-13? What would the warning have been? Would the pitcher have not pitched because of this warning? Sometimes there are situations that are so open and obvious that you really shouldn’t need a warning label, but leave it to the aggressive plaintiff’s bar to promote, urge, and continuously file costly personal injury and products liability clams. These lawsuits are causing manufacturers to go to great lengths to avoid lawsuit with ridiculous warnings.
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