Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas
There is a movement afoot in this country where more and more people are beginning to understand the increased risks of injury that the use of metal or aluminum bats (in youth baseball games through college games) are causing the youth of this country. Below is a summary of a number of pending and resolved legal cases, across the nation, which show that attorneys are starting to take these cases and take on powerful defendants whether it’s a bat company, Little League baseball or other powerful entities. While all the defendants deny any liability, a jury in the past has (and, possibly, in other cases in the near future, will) held a defendant liable for injuries caused by a baseball hit off an aluminum or metal bat.
DOMALEWSKI v. HILLERICH & BRADSBY, THE SPORTS AUTHORITY and LITTLE LEAGUE BASEBALL — Many of you are familiar with this case, where, on June 6, 2006, 12-year-old Steven Domalewski was pitching in a Police Athletic League game in Wayne, New Jersey when he was hit in the chest by a ball hit off an aluminum bat. His heart stopped, he couldn’t breathe for about 15 minutes and the resulting commotio cordis condition caused brain damage to the point where he is now a teenager confined to a wheelchair who cannot speak clearly and needs 24/7 care. The Domalewski family’s attorney, Ernest Fronzuto, filed the lawsuit naming as defendants Hillerich & Bradsby (known to most of us as Louisville Slugger), the maker of the metal bat, The Sports Authority, the seller of the bat, and Little League Baseball, which had approved the bat as safe for youth baseball. For a more complete discussion of this case, see Kallas Remarks, 5/25/08.
While still in its early stages (it was filed in May 2008 in Superior Court in New Jersey), all defendants have or will deny any liability on their part. But this suit alone has already changed the way that many young kids play baseball. Many are wearing a protective heart guard when they play and at least one youth league has made it mandatory for all of their pitchers.
PATCH V. HILLERICH & BRADSBY and UNIVERSAL ATHLETIC SERVICES — Another devastating case, Brandon Patch was an 18-year-old pitching for an American Legion team in Montana on July 25, 2003 when he was hit in the head with a ball hit off an aluminum bat. He crumbled to the ground, suffered massive head injuries and died from those injuries. The Patch family is suing the bat maker and the bat seller in state court in Montana. According to Joe White, Jr., one of the attorneys for the Patch family, the trial was originally scheduled for March 2008 but, due to a snafu with getting jurors for the case, it has now been put off until October 2009. The defendants deny any liability and, apparently, a jury in Montana will decide this case next year.
YEAMAN v. HILLERICH & BRADSBY — In this case, just filed this year, Dillon Andrew Yeaman was pitching in an American Legion game in Norman, Oklahoma when he was hit in the face with a ball hit off an aluminum bat. He suffered severe facial injuries and he brought suit in state court in Oklahoma. This case is also in the early stages.
BAGGS v. LITTLE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL, INC. — In this case, filed in New York State Supreme Court in Staten Island, John Baggs, Jr. was pitching in a Little League All-Star game in July 2006 when he was hit in the head by a ball hit off an aluminum bat. He suffered a broken orbital bone and other injuries that required multiple surgeries. While the damage was caused by a ball hit off an aluminum bat, Baggs and his family are suing Little League International because Little League had just increased the eligible age limit by 90 days (the cutoff went back from July 31 to April 30, thus allowing older kids, who could not have played before at that age, to continue to play Little League baseball) and Baggs was hit by a ball hit by one of those previously ineligible players.
Little League’s motion to dismiss the case was recently denied, according to John O’Leary of Staten Island, attorney for plaintiffs. Mr. O’Leary also said that no bat company was named because the actual bat was not found after the incident.
PALMER v. GRAND SLAM, INC., ET AL – In this case, filed in Stamford (CT) Superior Court, 16-year-old Chris Palmer was hit in the face with a ball hit off an aluminum bat during batting practice. Palmer lost his right eye, among other injuries, and, in 2003, sued the place of business where he was hit, an AAU team and its coach. According to Bruce Corrigan, Jr. of Westport, Connecticut, Palmer’s attorney, no bat company was sued because they could not find out what bat had been used. The use of an improperly-placed L screen (sometimes used during batting practice to protect the pitcher) was one of the reasons the defendants were sued. According to attorney Corrigan, a confidential settlement was reached with all defendants except Grand Slam, Inc and its owner. When those defendants failed to appear in court, plaintiff received a default judgment for $886,000, which he is now trying to enforce against an insurance company. Amazingly, Chris Palmer eventually came back to play high school baseball with just one eye, starring at Fairfield Prep and playing baseball in college at Tufts.
BRETT v. HILLERICH & BRADSBY – The premier plaintiff’s case in this area, Jeremy Brett was a teenaged pitcher who was hit in the head with a ball hit off an aluminum bat. He suffered severe head injuries and brought suit in federal court in Oklahoma. In 2002, Brett won a jury verdict which totaled $150,000. The money was paid by Louisville Slugger and they did not appeal the jury verdict, according to Brett’s attorney, Joe White, Jr. of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
SANCHEZ v. HILLERICH & BRADSBY — Andrew Sanchez was pitching for the University of Southern California on April 2, 1999, when he was hit in the head with a ball hit off an aluminum bat. He suffered a fractured skull. The case was eventually settled for an unspecified amount in 2002 with no admission of liability.
HANNANT v. HILLERICH & BRADSBY – On April 1, 2000, Daniel Hannant was hit in the head with a ball hit off an aluminum bat while pitching in a high school game near Chicago, Illinois. He suffered severe head injuries while pitching for his high school team, the Pittsfield Saukees, when he was hit in the head. He sued for $1 million in 2002 and the case was eventually “resolved,” according to his attorney, Robert Chapman of Chicago, Illinois, who could not discuss the case other than to say it was resolved.
There are other cases with similar fact patterns that have been settled out of court. Information on these cases is difficult to find because there is often little or no publicity surrounding them and the parties (and their attorneys) are usually barred from speaking about the outcome of the case (usually a settlement, pre-trial or otherwise, which has no finding or admission of liability on the part of the defendants and includes an agreement that the attorneys and the parties will not talk about the case).
The cases discussed above are the new wave of attack on the use of metal bats in youth and college baseball games. In addition, because of people like New York City Legislator Jim Oddo of Staten Island, New York, who sponsored the law that eventually passed in New York City barring the use of non-wood bats in high school games in New York City, and others (including WFAN’s Rick Wolff through his well-known radio show, “The Sports Edge”), more and more people are seeing the increased danger that metal bats can cause our children. These injuries, devastating and (in the case of Brandon Patch) deadly, can be limited by a return to baseball as it was played for a hundred years — with wood bats.
© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas. All rights reserved.