HELENA - The Montana Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously rejected an appeal of a jury's verdict that found the maker of Louisville Slugger baseball bats liable for the 2003 death of a player who was struck by a ball during a game in Helena.
Hillerich & Bradsby is subject to liability to all players in a baseball game for the physical harm caused by its CB-13 model aluminum bat's increased exit speed, the court ruled in upholding the $850,000 verdict to the parents of Brandon Patch.
"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," the court's ruling said.
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 bat maker had argued Patch assumed the risk by playing the game and that he was not actually using the bat when he was struck.
A jury in 2009 sided with the Patches and awarded them $850,000. The jury said the bat was not defective in design, but the ordinary user was not properly warned of its dangers.
The state Supreme Court's opinion, written by Justice Michael Wheat, said Hillerich & Bradsby's argument that the only method to provide a warning is directly on the bat was erroneous.
The company could have issued oral warnings or placed warnings in advertisements, posters or press releases to communicate to all players the potential risk of harm due to the bat's increased speed, the justices said.
The justices also rejected the company's argument that Patch had assumed the risk by voluntarily playing in the game. Patch knew he could be hit and he had been hit before, but continued playing anyway, the company had argued.
The court said there was no evidence that Patch knew he would be seriously injured or killed when pitching to a batter who was using one of the company's aluminum bats, and the company failed to show that Patch was aware of the risk.