TRIAL STARTS IN DEATH OF PITCHER BRANDON PATCH AGAINST LOUISVILLE SLUGGER

                                                                                    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.

TRIAL UNDERWAY

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.

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9 responses to “TRIAL STARTS IN DEATH OF PITCHER BRANDON PATCH AGAINST LOUISVILLE SLUGGER

  1. On the surface, the reaction time difference between 400 and 376 milliseconds may not sound like much, but it is a 6% difference and certainly appreciable.

    The best way to solve this issue is to pitch batting practice to the same group of kids, first with wood bats and then with $400, double-walled, NASA grade material, composite aluminum bats. Then argue the two are the same

  2. Sorry, but isn’t 18 y.o. an adult in Montana? I can appreciate the concern for children, and understand the pain for the parents, but this seems too “do it for the children” to give it any legs, especially since it involves the parents’ legally Adult Child, though with the judicial system as it is today, tort is defined more by theatrics than by reason. And the lack of warnings as to the danger seems completely oblivious to reality.
    Also, regarding the arguments used by the prosecution: how is it that an eighteen y.o. pitcher make it through presumably years of growing up playing baseball (at least a decade) without realizing that a batted ball gets hit FAST and the pitcher is the closest person on the field to the batter, so is the player at greatest risk from a well hit ball? It could hardly have been a beginner’s mistake if he was pitching post-high school ball?
    Just mind-boggling.

  3. The evolution of aluminum bats needs to be very much taken into consideration.

    The first (relatively inexpensive) aluminum bats produced did not have the trampoline effects or bat drops that can be produced with today’s materials and computer technology.

    The aluminum/composite bats in question employ high-tech, NASA-grade materials and very sophisticated engineering, hence their cost $300 to $400 and usually only last about one season for a teenager. The are also marketed for their “explosive power”.

  4. for the parnters of brandon how about soft helmets that go under the caps to protect the vulnerable anatomy of the head al the paramedic

  5. I agree, there is always an implied risk when playing sports of any kind. I am sorry for the loss of Brandon, but this is just another case of blaming everyone else for a tragedy. More reasons why we can no longer do anything is this country without fear of being sued. I played baseball for all of my life and clearly understood at 18 the risks that I took. I still play hockey and know the risks of what can happen to me if i fall wrong or any number of other things. If i get hit by a puck I am not going to sue the puck manufacturer because i got hit. I understand the risks, and so should a parent when there kids play sports.

  6. if anyone has hit with pro grade wood and alluminum bats you would know and see that the difference is not that great and what about if the pitcher hit the batter in the neck and killed him? would the ball be sued? get over yourself, you play sports knowing that you COULD get hurt, its sad but it happens. you dont sue equpiment for doing its job unless it failed during the job causing major injury which in this case i would think would be the reaction time of the pitcher, even pro ball players get hit in the head and can die.

  7. To award the family a cash reward is a sham and disrespectful of our national pastime. why not sue the ball-maker, Rawlings? What if he hit the batter and he died – can you sue the pitcher? This is like giving the pitcher an error for giving up a hit; line drives up the middle are part of the game.

    I pitched for 20 years, playing in major league farm systems before getting hurt and going to work. I had dozens of balls batted up the middle on me, some way closer to my head than I liked. A few hit my shins and knees and once I took one off the torso. It just happens. I can attest to one thing that was consistent in every liner back up the box – I made a bad pitch and the batter made me pay for it. All of them were belt hight and out over the plate. I may have thrown 90, but those meatballs get hit hard every time. If that’s the case, Brandon made a bad pitch and was partially at fault. The parents should sue themselves.

    What a bogus case. Clearly an emotional verdict by an emotional jury on an emotional case.

  8. This message is for Luke. I am from the town of helena where brandon patch was playing at the time of his accident. i was 13 years old watching the older guys play the game i love. Watchin a kid that was as old as my brother at that time die on the mound because of a hard hit ball right back at him is most definately a tragedy. and yes patch did leave a ball over the plate but he was 18 years old in a legion baseball game. you were pitching in the professionals and you had balls hit back at you! thats your fault your paid to not leave a 90 mile hour fastball over the plate belt high. im glad you got hit at its your one job to hit your spots and you didnt so thats your fault. the parents of brandon are very strong and i believe high school baseball should use wood bats. high school college, NCAA division one players should not use aluminum make it a challenge to hit a home run. make them work to make it into the majors. end of story. the makers of aluminum bats today need to work on making the ball come off slower not faster.

  9. Apparently it is and was common knowledge that these “Louisville Sluggers” could hit balls harder, faster, higher and so any team manager or coach should have realized this increases the danger factor for pitchers. Perhaps helmets are the problem. Maybe helmet companies should be sued next. Oh and while you are at it…better see if you can find a lawsuit against the ball manufacturers! This country is out of control! Quit suing and just realize that life sometimes throws you a curveball and sometimes you just strikeout!

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