August 22, 2012

$14.5 million settlement to a brain-damaged boy struck by a baseball hit by a metal bat.

The legal theory was that the metal bat was unsafe because it propelled the ball faster than the old wooden bats.

The ball hit the boy in the chest "at the precise millisecond between heartbeats, sending him into cardiac arrest," and oxygen to the brain was lost for 15 to 20 minutes.

(The linked article isn't completely clear about the different kinds of metal bats. It seems that Little League has been involved in getting metal bats designed to limit their performance to that of wooden bats, so don't assume that this huge settlement means the end of metal bats.)


jeff said...

We played with aluminum bats back when I was a teenager 30+ years ago and they were controversial back then for that reason. The problem in this case is that this particular injury can and has happened from a thrown ball, and a hit from a wooden bat. It isnt the speed of the ball, its the timing of the hit. It looks like this happened when the kid was 12, I doubt either the pitch or the hit was moving all that fast. This may be a case of "someone must be blamed" for anything bad that happens.

chickelit said...

$14.5 M seems excessive. I hope the parents feel vindicated and have bankrupted the company and the town such that no child will ever play baseball there again and remind them of what they lost.

Pastafarian said...

Tragic story and all, but...they sued Louisville Slugger for making a bat too well? And Sports Authority for selling such a bat, that did what it was designed to do...too well?

This is why people hate lawyers, and why we need tort reform. I'm in manufacturing, and I have a recurring nightmare of a lawsuit like this.

I wonder who they would have sued, had the bat been typical of little league bats, or even a somewhat dead bat; but the ball had been hit by a young Henry Aaron type player. Because such a player could probably hit the ball a lot harder with a wood bat than this unnamed little leaguer did with his aluminum bat.

Would they have sued the batter's parents, for feeding him too well, or practicing with him too much?

Carnifex said...

What Jeff said x1000. If it was because the ball hit at the precise moment then it was just an accident. Sorry Mom and Dad, but shit happens that is no ones fault. Seems to me that if they were really troubled by this that they would try to shut down the bame of baseball, because that is why they were playing with a ball and bat to start with. But the bat company pays so much better than just doing something for humanitarian reasons.

Example number 12,536,303 why this country needs fewer lawyers.

Carnifex said...


Why didn't they sue the company that made the baseball?

If I can think of a dozen reasons why the ball was at fault too, I'm sure a shyst...I mean lawyer could think up hundreds.

But that's just silly.

chickelit said...

@Pastafarian: In California, liability and monies awarded are two different decisions made by juries. I wouldn't blame the lawyers per se unless they used deceptive tactics. Blame the jurors who are everyday people for the most part.

Bender said...

It seems that Little League has been involved in getting metal bats designed to limit their performance to that of wooden bats

So even if -- IF -- the aluminum bat made any causal difference whatsover, the risk was well known, and this kid and his parents allowed him to play nevertheless, thereby taking the responsibility for the risk upon themselves.

Amartel said...

The defendants (Little League Baseball, the bat mfr, and the sporting good store) paid this amount to avoid the risk of trial. That risk was analyzed and examined up, down, sideways, backwards and forwards and found to have a value of $14.5 million. Blaming lawyers is a knee-jerk feel-good reaction. It's easy and it's fun and ... meaningless. I do it all the time. But this isn't a lawyer problem, it's a culture problem. The culture now values reliance on others and enforced community over self-reliance and autonomy. Juries are easily gulled into finding fault and overvaluing damages. People have been taught to view business and product manufacturers and employers with suspicion and as strict liability insurers of anything that happens in their proximity. That's how this settlement occurred.

rhhardin said...

The trouble is a law that for example wiped out the light airplane business in the US.

You can sue the manufacturer for bad design, the idea being that that would use the free market to get just the right amount of safety in products, not too much and not too little.

An occasional death might be an acceptable level of safety in a widely used product, and that would be determined by the lawsuit payout levels and the cost of a safer but more expensive design. All very free market, making that tradeoff.

Trouble started with added punitive damages, where somebody decided that in addition to the right amount of damages, you would send a message that no level of death is acceptable, and to do that you need huge huge awards, so that's what they did.

That's completely incompatible with the whole idea of the law, and why everything fell apart.

It got legs from its soap opera potential, and will never go away so long as there are women.

Bender said...

Common Chest Blows Can Cause Sudden Death in Children

Seemingly innocent blows to the chest-even from attempts to remedy hiccups or from a toy plastic bat-can result in rare cases of sudden death in children, according to research presented recently at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2001 Conference.

"These fatal chest blows often occurred inadvertently in young children and under bizarre circumstances that are not usually associated with sudden death risk," said Barry J. Maron, MD, lead author of the study and director of the Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Center at the Minneapolis Heart Institution Foundation.

The chest blows came from objects such as a hollow plastic bat, a snowball, a tennis ball filled with coins, a swing, a plastic sled saucer and baseball-related blows. Bodily contact during shadow boxing, playing with a pet dog, parent-child discipline, gang rituals, intervening in scuffles and attempts to remedy the hiccups also caused death, according to the study. These activities often occurred around the home or a playground and involved friends, parents and siblings.

Maron said the most vulnerable children are those under the age of 12 whose chest cages are narrow and who have underdeveloped chest muscles. . . .

These chest blows, also called commotio cordis, have been associated with sudden cardiac death in the absence of structural damage to the chest wall or heart. . . .

While the victims had structurally normal hearts with no heart disease, the strikes occurred over the heart at a precise moment, resulting in ventricular fibrillation, cardiac arrest or sudden cardiac death. A strike at the "vulnerable" time of the heart cycle between beats can trigger an abnormal rhythm.

"Any blow to the chest, regardless of its intensity or velocity or force, is capable of producing cardiac arrest," Dr. Maron said.

CWJ said...

I hope people here can see the connection between huge settlements like this and for example the recent lifeguard firing incident where the story emphasized the heartless employer firing the poor heroic lifeguard going outside his area of responsibility; I.e. liability coverage.

That incident turned out OK, but if anything had gone wrong, I don't doubt the plaintiffs bar was just itching to take the company to the cleaners.

Bender said...

Wikipedia on Commotio cordis

Commotio cordis is a very rare event, but nonetheless is often considered when an athlete presents with sudden cardiac death. Some of the sports which have a risk for this cause of trauma are baseball, association football, ice hockey, polo, rugby football, cricket, softball, pelota, fencing, lacrosse, boxing, karate, kung fu and other martial arts. Children are especially vulnerable, possibly[citation needed] due to the mechanical properties of their thoracic skeleton. From 1996 to spring 2007, the USA National Commotio Cordis Registry had 188 cases recorded, with about half occurring during organized sports[3] Almost all (96%) of the victims were male, the mean age of the victims during that period was 14.7 years, and fewer than 1 in 5 survived the incident.

In other words -- no actual legal liability, even if LS chose to settle.

Amartel said...

"Trouble started with added punitive damages"

And don't forget attorney's fees statutes. Makes owning rental property in California a very risky business.

Chip S. said...

Although I agree that this is a case where the risks are known, I don't have much of a problem with this outcome precisely b/c the risks are known.

The ultimate effect of this decision is that the price of bats goes up by enough to cover the predictable expenses from future lawsuits. So it winds up working like a tied sale of bats and injury insurance.

Seems reasonable.

Curious George said...

"jeff said...
We played with aluminum bats back when I was a teenager 30+ years ago and they were controversial back then for that reason. The problem in this case is that this particular injury can and has happened from a thrown ball, and a hit from a wooden bat. It isnt the speed of the ball, its the timing of the hit. It looks like this happened when the kid was 12, I doubt either the pitch or the hit was moving all that fast. This may be a case of "someone must be blamed" for anything bad that happens."

It most certainly is the speed of the ball which gets to the pitcher faster than reaction time. Seems since my kids played (they are in their 30's now) they pulled back the performance of metal bats. Introduced originally to save youth leagues money (wooden bats crack), manufacturers quickly marketed the increased performance of the bats, making them "hotter", much like drivers in golf. If these bats perform at levels of wooden bats, then this suit is ridiculous.

Bender said...

If a like injury has happened with a plastic bat, then whether or not a metal bat used by a kid actually does increase ball velocity doesn't really matter all that much, except to confuse the issue.

jeff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
wyo sis said...

I can't believe they even had a case much less won it. You assume certain risks when you play sports. Heck, when you live. This is no one's fault.

The Godfather said...

Please don't blame "lawyers" for this kind of thing.

If you walk across a cow pasture, and there's piles of cowshit here and there, and the flies are buzzing around the cowshit, you don't blame the flies, do you?

There's not one of these liability rules that the legislature couldn't change. Blame them.

As Jesus said of the poor, we can say of the lawyers, "You will always have them with you."

Peter said...

There was a time when swimming pools all over america had diving boards. And not just diving boards, but regular diving boards and high diving boards.

Now, pools with diving boards are difficult to find. Are we better off for that?

Which is to say, how long will it be before hardballs are replaced with softballs, and then softballs with wiffle balls?

And, in any case, aren't there more rational systems for taking care of the victims of accidents than one that relies on the caprice of a juror's emotions, and in which half or so of the award goes to pay the lawyers?

Carnifex said...

It was a nice try defending the lawyers, but there would be no threatened suit except that a lawyer saw a way to score a big payoff for himself. It really is that simple. You want to make this shit go away make it loser pays. But every lawyer fights that tooth and nail...wonder why?

Cedarford said...

Jeff is dead right, and the subsequent talk about how lawyers can milk the system for millions whenever they have a Terri Schiavo under our current tort system where a sympathetic jury will award millions regardless of facts if they think the "victim" deserves the money.

Same thing could have happened if the kid was struck by a pitch, or the vegetative pitcher had been struck same place, same speed, same time by a wooden bat - so if we had a better legal system - one designed to prevent recurrence - what do the Shysters suggest???'

1. Can't go back to wood bats because they were abandoned in part because pitchers bystanders and even batters were getting impaled by jagged pieces of broken bats. Aluminum bats reduced injury by 85%.
2. Ban baseball, as this could happen tomorrow if they went with wood or plastic bats and softballs.
3. Play, but limit balls to either wiffle balls or tennis balls,
4. Shysters sign off on allowing baseball...but only if played in full body armor costing 800 a player.

Richard Dolan said...

Three points to bear in mind.

First, the article is reporting a settlement, not a judicial decision. Settlments, by definition, are voluntary acts of the defendant(s), who have the right to take the case to trial and appeal if they lose. That didn't happen here, which suggests that there the defense may had had other reasons to accept the settlement than is being reported.

Second, it is quite likely that the real player for the defense in the settlment was an insurance carrier. Depending on the amount of the coverage, the carrier may sometimes be under presssure to take a settlment (if, for example, the demand is within the coverage limits, and the insured demands that the case be settled to avoid a possibility of an award exceeding policy limits).

Finally, the case arose in New Jersey, a jurisdiction that can generate seriously wacky results; and the article is in the NY Post, a paper that doesn't always let the details get in the way of the preferred narrative.

But don't let any of that get in the way of the 'kill all the lawyers' shtick.

Amartel said...

"It was a nice try defending the lawyers, but there would be no threatened suit except that a lawyer saw a way to score a big payoff for himself. It really is that simple. You want to make this shit go away make it loser pays. But every lawyer fights that tooth and nail...wonder why?"

1. Not defending lawyers.
2. There would be no suit if the plaintiff's parents didn't want to profit off their child's injury or death.
3. (It really is that simple.)
4. You want to make defendants pay even more absurd sums in order to settle casesm, make it loser pays (I'm assuming you mean attorneys' fees and all costs of suit).
5. Don't let the facts get in the way of an easy rant though.

Richard Dolan said...

One add'l point. The settlement is probably in the form of an annuity -- what is known as a 'structured settlement.'. In English, that means that the total pay-out over the young man's life expectancy will be $14.5 million. But the cost to the settling defendant (insurer) is a fraction of that. Since the plaintiff is in his teens, the actual cost might be a third of the stated amount.

I don't know whether that is, in fact, how the case was settled. But it would be quite typical of cases where the major component of damages is future medical costs and living expenses.

Methadras said...

I feel bad for this family, but when an ambulance chaser gets his/her meat-hooks into a family like this, it's a scorched earth policy of lawsuits. Gun manufacturers know this, bar owners know this, car companies know this, anyone that makes anything that kills someone by accident knows this. It's tragic, it was an accident, but to cripple an entire town and a sport equipment manufacturer for it is excessive. Bad things happen to good people. That's life. Why is it the bats fault?

Hagar said...

The jury felt sorry for the boy and his family, and the bat manufacturer "has insurance," so its like free money to give the plaintiff.

CWJ said...

I generally agree with Richard Dolan, but -

Point one. Yes its a settlement where all parties decide how much the insurance company should pay. Nice. None of them have skin in the game. We are talking about a legal product used in exactly the fashion in which it was intended but with unfortunate results. But no acknowledgement that shit happens and that the same sad outcome may have no relationship to the speed of the ball. The insurance company must be made to pay because of the sad circumstance.

Point two. See point one. But let's ignore the costs passed on to rest of the market because the insurance company passes them on to the market through higher premiums.

Point three. Again see point one. Because point three is the practical extortion that forces defendants to accept a settlement rather than fight for their rights.

BTW. Your additional point. If a lawyer was involved, their firm took a third of that 14.5MM dollars. Nice work if you can get it. And to make things even slimier, there are plenty of vultures offering families to cash out their structured settlements for pennies on the dollar.

So at the end of the day, everyone else ends up paying a bit more in life to finance other people's windfalls. I know I sound harsh, but I just don't see the culpability that justifies the payout.

Carnifex said...


You seriously think any lawyer would have touched this as a case unless they had a big payoff with no corresponding threat of a big loss? Well I'm happy for your naivete. And yes the parents are equally culpable.

'bout 5 years ago we had a couple 3 lawyers that worked on some big dollar case, don't ask me which, I didn't pay a lot of attention, but when the payoffs cameout for the people that were injured, they got thousands of dollars...the 3 lawyers set up a trust fund or annuity, and were handling the money...and writing themselves checks for millions.

So no, lawyers have a reputation for being snakes in the grass. Maybe if fewer got into politics the smell wouldn't rub off on 'em so much.

And in your rebuttal, how does loser pays effect the defendents fee? Please don't let logic get in the way of a good argument.(if the defendent losses he is going to pay anyway...if the litiugant losses in todays system whats he lost? He should pay the defendents legal fees and all court fees.

But I notice, there was no response to how lawyers fight this simple fix.

furious_a said...

Aluminum bats vs. wooden bats offer a higher bat speed, compress more at contact thus compressing the ball less, and have a larger sweet spot.

There was a Sports Illustrated article from several years ago (can't find for citiation) documenting the uptick of severe stuck-ball injuries to college pitchers after NCAA teams adopted aluminum bats in the '80s.

Cindy Martin said...

A handful of lawyers won a lottery ticket and we all paid for it.

Chip S. said...

CWJ said...
So at the end of the day, everyone else ends up paying a bit more in life to finance other people's windfalls.

Yeah, that kid and his family are probably cackling over their good fortune. Well, maybe not the kid.

Over 4 million aluminum bats are sold annually in the US. If one of these suits were settled at this amount every year, the extra cost per bat would be about $3.50.

I have no idea how often this happens, tho.

Bender said...

after NCAA teams adopted aluminum bats in the '80s

i.e. about 30 years ago.

They've since implemented equipment manufacture rules to equalize ball velocity off aluminum and wood bats.

Chip S. said...

They've since implemented equipment manufacture rules to equalize ball velocity off aluminum and wood bats.

I don't know how this regulation is specified, but if it uses equal bat speeds for its comparison then the two types of bats are not equivalent. Hitters can generate greater bat speed w/ aluminum, and aluminum bats have larger sweet spots.

Here's some documentation of the superiority of aluminum. Of course, the simple observation that college players don't use wooden bats voluntarily pretty much demonstrates the point. If the two were equally effective, it would be a good idea for top players to demonstrate to professional scouts that they could hit well using wooden bats.

CWJ said...

Chip S,

Seriously, what's your point. Of course, the family is hurting. No doubt about that. So are other families. So when do we say shit happens, and when do we say this particular family deserves compensation (less 1/3 attorneys' fees in cash rather than a structured settlement).

Other than the understandable sympathy for a family where a bad thing has happened, where's the culpability that justifies the settlement?

Multiply all such settlements against the cost of insuring yourself against such possibilities and you have a system that is capricious at best as to which deserving people receive compensation and is at least inefficient to the tune of 33% and more at delivering such compensation.

Chip S. said...

Seriously, what's your point.

Seriously? Several points.

1. "Windfall" is not the word I'd use to describe this settlement.

2. You and most of the others in this thread have discussed this case on the presumption that $14.5 million is an amount that imposes large costs on the baseball-bat industry.

I don't know if $3.50 per bat is a lot or not, but I thought it was useful to try to find a benchmark for discussion. As I said, I don't even know if it's a good number, b/c the calculation assumes one such incident per year and I don't know if that's right. But it seems to me that it's better to make a rough guess about the magnitude of the cost rather than just assume that it's huge.

But there's a third, more general point: the optimal assignment of liability. It can be assigned to the bat manufacturers, to Little League, Inc., or to the kids and their families. To go thru the options v. briefly:

1) Liability on the kids requires every family to either bear the risk itself or shop for insurance against catastrophic injury, which means a large number of individual transaction costs. Each one may be small, but the sum could still be larger than a third of $14.5 million. Since the risk of injury is higher for players at some positions than others, there could be problems in pricing these policies.

2) Liability on the league requires it to shop for insurance. The league will have to charge sufficient fees to players to cover the cost of this. This at least has the advantage of being much easier to price than player-specific policies. But it still may be necessary for the families of injured players to hire lawyers to determine the amount of any settlement.

3) Liability on the bat manufacturer adds something to the mix that isn't otherwise present: the incentive to modify bat design. This is important b/c the buyer of the bat is not the person facing the risk of injury from a batted ball. The incentives facing a manufacturer that is immune from liability are to make the liveliest bat possible, since price rises with performance. So placing liability on the manufacturer is more likely to result in the optimal bat design.

SGT Ted said...

I coached Little League and Babe Ruth Ball as well as played adult hard ball.

All Little League approved bats are toned down so they don't get as much pop as older models of aluminum bats for just this reason. The main difference between alum and wooden bats at that age is the "sweet spot", which is bigger on alum bats than on wooden bats, thus, more hits get into play.

But, hey, free money is to be had and juries cannot be replied on to use common sense.