Back in 2003, Montana high school pitcher Brandon Patch was struck by a line drive from an aluminum bat in his temple during a game. Patch would die from the injuries four hours later; his family, quite understandably, eventually filed a lawsuit.
Their lawsuit, however, wasn’t against staff at the game or anybody else who was there - it was against the bat manufacturers. Specifically, it was against Hillerich & Bradsby, who make the Louisville Slugger aluminum bats. And today, a jury found in the Patch family’s favor, awarding the family $850,000.
From the HELENA INDEPENDENT RECORD:
After 12 hours of deliberation, a Helena jury sided with the parents of former Miles City American Legion baseball pitcher Brandon Patch in a civil suit over the player’s death during a 2003 game in Helena.
At least eight of the 12 jurors agreed Wednesday, aluminum bat maker Hillerich & Bradsby failed to provide adequate warning as to the dangers of the bat used by a Helena Senators player during the game.
In the verdict read in District Judge Kathy Seeley’s court, the jurors found the company, which makes Louisville Slugger, liable for failing to warn users of the danger of its bats and that this failure caused the accident that killed 18-year-old Patch. A third decision was that the bat was not defective. Attorney’s representing Debbie Patch argued during the week-long trial that the bat used on July 25, 2003 was defective because it was more dangerous than the average person would expect.
The breakdown of the money was $792,000 for damages to Brandon Patch and $58,000 to the family for emotional damages and funeral expenses.
This is a landmark case in that the aluminum baseball bat as a piece of sports equipment was essentially put on trial. After all, the bat that launched the fatal line drive was found not to be defective by the jury (though the Patch attorneys argued otherwise), which means it was doing exactly what it was supposed to do when Patch was struck down.
At the family’s FOREVER11.COM website set up in memory of Patch, there’s a litany of information on the aluminum bat and its inherent danger. It’s not terribly well set up, though it’s as good as you can expect; this is the work of a grieving family, after all, and they’re getting information out as they learn it too.
This lawsuit opens up aluminum bat manufacturers for a ton of other litigation if injuries and deaths continue without changes. Whether those changes come via enhanced and more explicit warnings when purchasing the equipment, recommendations that the pitcher wear a helmet or other protection (we still can’t believe that hasn’t caught on, by the way; look at the armor Barry Bonds used to wear), or somewhere else, it remains to be seen.
We don’t think the bat manufacturers were intentionally putting kids at risk, of course; that’s insanely illogical and it’s not what the lawsuit determines anyway. We do think - and the jury largely agreed - that the risks had been severely underestimated by the manufacturers for obvious reasons, and that inherent problem is coming home to roost. It’s just a shame it took the sudden passing of an 18-year-old for that to come about.