Baseball Bat lawsuit WTF?
October 30, 2009 1:24 PM   Subscribe

Is there a rest of the story to the recent award of US$850K to a person hit by a baseball from the bat's manufacturer?

The story says the award is because their wasn't sufficient warning labelling on the bat. Which seems crazy on the face of it considering that the bat was 60 feet, give or take, from the person who died and was, I'm assuming, not owned or even handled by the person who died. How would he have ever seen the warning?

Is there a back story like the McDonalds coffee case that isn't making it into the press?
posted by Mitheral to Law & Government (11 answers total)
Has to do with the way balls "trampoline" off of modern metal bats. Very different than traditional bats. Makes them go much faster.
posted by JPD at 1:31 PM on October 30, 2009

Response by poster: Oh, so I'm clear I'm aware of the safety debate of the various types of bats. The news stories don't seem to be saying that the court found the bats unsafe though rather that there wasn't sufficient safety labelling.
posted by Mitheral at 1:36 PM on October 30, 2009

I would love to hear expert commentary on this case, rather than the OMGLAWYERZ!!1! comments I've only been able to find so far.

From what I understand, it was insufficient labeling on the part of the manufacturer of the bat. I'm assuming the jury came to the conclusion that the player who died did not have sufficient information about how fast balls would be coming off the bats.

If anyone finds (moderated, rational) commentary on this situation, I'd love to know about it.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 1:49 PM on October 30, 2009

The news reports said that the jury specifically found that the product was not defective but that its labeling was inadequate. Never mind that this is somewhat contradictory.

Obviously, warnings cannot be printed on the bat itself. Warnings would be printed on the box that it came in or on a sheet tucked into the box. And the warning would be directed at the purchaser, not another player on the field or even the player who picks it up and swings it.

The theory, as I understand it, was that the manufacturer should have warned (in that fashion) that using the aluminum bat poses a higher risk of injury, and that the league organizers would then decide not to use the more dangerous bats.

The truth - contrary to what JPD claims here - is that there is not much of a difference in velocity.

The unavoidable reality is that, when playing sports, participants and spectators are sometimes hurt and are occasionally killed.

There is a good chance that this would be overturned on appeal.

Some commentary: Overlawyered and links from that site - Turley
posted by yclipse at 2:15 PM on October 30, 2009

As you know, aluminum bats are very dangerous, because the speed of a struck ball is higher enough to cause more severe injuries than "softer" wooden bats... so I read this ruling as an attempted "wake up call" to manufacturers, parents, coaches and organized leagues. There has been a lot of denial and obfuscation happening from aluminum bat manufacturers who are afraid of losing a lot of money in sales, not to mention lawsuits.

Aluminum bats have always seemed like a sleazy sales angle to me, especially when aimed at children's leagues. They're less expensive over time because they do not break and require replacement so often, which is why they became popular in less-wealthy leagues like the minors, college and little leagues... but it has always galled me to hear the claims that they were somehow safer because they would not break into "dangerous" splinters. I didn't buy that argument when I was twelve, and I don't believe it now.

As this case shows, it ain't the splinters that are dangerous, it's the 120mph projectile.

Disclaimer: I grew up playing little league with good old hickory, so get off my (kentucky bluegrass) lawn.
posted by rokusan at 2:36 PM on October 30, 2009

They already have a warning that says: "While more durable than wood, aluminum bats can break and possibly cause injury to the batter, other players, or spectators." One could argue that they acknowledged the need to have warnings by having that one, and yet they didn't add one for the case that is much more likely to happen.
posted by smackfu at 3:57 PM on October 30, 2009

Obviously, warnings cannot be printed on the bat itself.

Why not?
posted by inigo2 at 4:24 PM on October 30, 2009

It's good to keep in mind that juries are a collection of six to twelve individuals, and while they are instructed to apply the law, they are also supposed to use their judgement based on the claims of the parties.

While there is a great deal of transparency in such a system, there is a criticism that juries aren't experts and just can't be trusted to make tricky technical judgements, sort of a jury WTF factor.

The manufacturer will almost certainly appeal, and there's a chance that a judge or appeals panel will overturn or alter the verdict.

The thing is, this case seems to hinge on some inchoate factors such as how hard someone is hitting the ball, but warning labels are something tangible and would fall under product liability law in a more concrete way. Thus the concentration on something the law can actually handle.
posted by dhartung at 4:27 PM on October 30, 2009

It's a close call for me but I disagree with the verdict-- a warning would have done no good to the pitcher, and if the intent of the warning was to alert the league to the danger, I think the league was already aware of the danger, and is the most culpable party. They probably lack the deep pockets of the bat manufacturer, however. This is hard, period. I don't agree with simply revising the law back to the rule that a player of a sport simply waives all claims to all parties just by playing, but I have a hard time determining where the line should be.

This looks like a pretty rigorous analysis of the difference between wood and aluminum bats-- really only about an 8-9 mph difference in speed of the ball.
posted by missouri_lawyer at 7:57 PM on October 30, 2009

only about an 8-9 mph difference in speed of the ball

The kinetic energy of an object increases with the square of the speed. A ball traveling at, say, 100mph has ~25% more energy than one traveling just 10 mph slower. (90^2 = 8100, 100^2 = 10000).
posted by zippy at 10:57 PM on October 30, 2009

From reading the various articles, it seems like their argument is that a ball hit off a metal bat exceeds some reaction time threshold. That the time a line drive takes to reach the pitcher with an aluminum bat (376 ms) is shorter than the time required to safely move out of the way (400 ms), and that is inherently unsafe to the pitcher.

If you have studies or lab data that prove each of those numbers, and show that wood bats would not exceed that threshold, that seems like a winnable case.
posted by smackfu at 9:40 AM on October 31, 2009

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