Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas
On July 25, 2003, 18-year-old Brandon Patch was pitching for his American Legion team in Montana, the Miles City Mavericks. Patch threw a pitch and, according to witnesses, never had a chance to get out of the way of a line drive hit at him off an aluminum bat. Patch was hit in the head, suffered devastating head injuries, was taken to the hospital – and died just a few hours later.
This past week, in state court in Helena, Montana, the case against the maker of that bat, Hillerich & Bradsby (better known as Louisville Slugger), proceeded before a jury of twelve men and women. Attorneys for the plaintiffs, the family of Brandon Patch, essentially took two trial days to present their case and rested their case this past Wednesday.
The essence of the case, according to the plaintiffs, is that Brandon Patch simply had no time to react, had no time to get out of the way or do anything to protect himself from a ball that was catapulted off an aluminum bat. According to an AP article written by Brock Vergakis, Patch’s teammate that terrible day, first baseman Kevin Roberts, testified that “[i]t was just so quick. Everything happened so fast.”
The Patch family attorney, Joe White, exclusively told Kallas Remarks this past Friday, two days after resting his case, that “we feel real pleased with how the evidence is going in. We feel pretty good about the way the case is going and we hope that the defendant’s bat is found to be defective in design.”
AND THAT’S THE CRUX OF THE CASE
One of the main issues in the case is whether anyone could have known that this bat could be so dangerous. Joe White is quoted in the AP article as saying “[t]here is absolutely no warning anywhere … that this bat can create a situation where a pitcher is defenseless.”
DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO DISMISS
At the end of the Patch family’s case, defendant’s attorney, Rob Sterup, made a motion to dismiss the entire case. According to the AP article, Sterup argued before Judge Kathy Seely this past Wednesday that “[t]his bat did what was expected of it. There is no showing it did anything different.”
Judge Seely denied the motion to dismiss and the defendant is putting on its case.
THE CRUX OF THE NATIONAL DEBATE
To some degree, in this writer’s opinion, defendant’s counsel really crystallized the national debate on aluminum bats. There have been some loud voices for many years (such as WFAN’s Rick Wolff on his youth sports show, The Sports Edge) who believe (as does this writer) that the aluminum bats of today, in and of themselves, are too dangerous and can maim, severely injure and even kill young baseball players.
It’s started a national debate and the Patch case will gain national attention in the coming week. This will bring the issue of aluminum bats to the forefront and, depending on the jury’s verdict, could very well start to sound the death knell for allowing our children to use these bats and be put at risk for serious injury.
The campaign is already underway with such people as legislator Jim Oddo of Staten Island, who sponsored a bill banning the use of aluminum bats in New York City high school games. After much debate, the bill passed and the reaction, two seasons later, has become much ado about nothing – the games go on, the kids learn to hit with wood and baseball is a better – and safer – game today in New York City high schools.
BRETT V. LOUISVILLE SLUGGER
There’s already been a case where Louisville Slugger was held liable by a jury for damages to a kid who was hit in the head and suffered severe injury from a ball hit off an aluminum bat. In that 2002 case, which received very little attention, a federal jury awarded young Jeremy Brett $150,000 in damages for his injuries. Louisville Slugger did not appeal and paid the judgment.
BACK TO THE PATCH CASE
The crux of the Patch case might very well be the reaction time. Witnesses who were at the game have testified that there was no time for Brandon Patch to react, that he had no chance to get out of the way, that he was defenseless. According to attorney Joe White, as reported in the Independent Record by Angela Brandt, the average time to respond to a batted ball is 400 milliseconds. Yet Brandon Patch had less time than that brief time, about 376 milliseconds.
Could this short time span be the difference between life and death? Well, it very well could be, but a jury will have to decide, in the next week or so, whether this bat was defective and didn’t give Brandon Patch enough time to react to the batted ball.
THE DEFENSE CASE
The defense is presently putting on its case and will continue until the middle of this coming week. The defense is apparently going to call some experts who will attempt to show that this bat is like many bats, including wood bats. Defense attorney Sterup, in his opening statement, told the jury that “If some other bat was used, the ball would have been hit just as hard, if not harder.” Sterup was also quoted as saying, in the article by Angela Brandt, that “Baseball is a safe sport – always has been. Aluminum bats have not changed that.”
Well, anyone who has pitched batting practice to youth players who hit with wood and aluminum can immediately tell that there’s a difference between hitting with metal and hitting with wood. Years ago, this writer went down to a wood bat league in central New Jersey and, between games of a doubleheader, I asked two umpires I had never seen before and have never seen since, what the big deal was, that it seemed to me, from what I had heard, that aluminum and wood bats were the same when it came to hitting a baseball.
They both laughed at me and told me to stick around and watch these 16 and 17-year-old kids hit the ball with wood. They said there would be no moonshots or rockets off the bat. They said it would clearly be like “old-time baseball” and that it would be safer. I did stick around and they were right – I saw one in-the-gap double and no rockets that made you cringe and worry about the safety of the pitcher. It was indeed an eye-opener – long before the New York City law and the comas of Billy Kalant in Illinois and others.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
The Patch case is expected to go to the jury in the middle of this coming week. Unlike the Kentucky football coach case which could be watched on the internet (see Kallas Remarks, 9/14/09 and 9/18/09), it’s impossible to get a feel for what the in-trial evidence is like and what the judge and/or jury’s reaction to it is.
But it says here that, no matter what the verdict (although if the case gets to the jury, in this writer’s opinion, you have to think the Patch family has a good chance to prevail), the national debate will continue. The Patch family needs eight of the twelve jurors to vote for them to prevail. If Louisville Slugger loses the case, it will go a long way to start reversing the trend of aluminum bats in this country that was started in New York City a few years ago – a return to wood bats for children who play baseball.
We’ll see what happens.
© Copyright 2009 by Steve Kallas. All rights reserved.