Tuesday, December 24, 2002

STRIKING OUT ON APPEAL: While Howard Bashman is out to lunch, it's up to me to fill you in on this one: the California Court of Appeal (2d Dist) has ruled that the manufacturer of the Louisville Slugger Air Attack 2 bat can be held liable for injuries caused by line drives hit off the bat.

Cal State-Northridge pitcher Andrew Sanchez suffered serious injuries after being struck in the head by a line drive hit by an Air Attack 2 aluminum bat. According to expert reports, the ball was travelling at an approximate speed of 108 miles-per-hour at his head, just 52-53 feet away, giving Sanchez only 0.32 - 0.37 seconds to react.

Sanchez sued the bat manufacturer and others, alleging that the high-tech bat had been designed in such a way that knowingly and significantly increased the risk that a pitcher would be hit by a line drive. The manufacturer countered that Sanchez assumed the risk of being hit in the head by a line drive just by being a pitcher, because, hey, these things happen in baseball. (Indeed, it happened to me once in a softball practice in law school)

What happened? Well, this is the kind of paragraph you hate to see in a court opinion when you're the defendant:
Jack Mackay, the designer of the Air Attack 2, declared that he had been a designer and tester of bats for nine years and was a paid consultant for H&B’s Louisville Slugger Division. Mackay was present when time studies were performed on the bat at a Louisville Slugger testing center. He stated that the invention allowed a batter to hit a ball at speeds in excess of that which would have given a pitcher time to avoid being hit. As a result, he opined that the Air Attack 2 substantially increased the risk of a pitcher being hit by what he termed a “come backer.” Mackay complained to his employers at the Louisville Slugger division of H&B about the increased risks of injuries, but the complaints were ignored and Marty Archer, president of the division, warned Mackay that he should not publicly discuss issues of safety.

Other valuable testimony was given by legendary Amherst baseball coach Bill Thurston, who had initiated an NCAA study which concluded that the Air Attack 2 substantially increased the risk of a pitcher being hit by a line drive, compared with the risk associated with wood bats or even earlier generations of non-wood bats.

The court reversed the grant of summary judgment, allowing Sanchez's suit to proceed to trial. You can read the court's opinion here.

For what it's worth, this wasn't the first time that Hillerich & Bradsby has been sued for the Air Attack 2. In fact, the bat seems to have caused them a lot of headaches, so to speak.

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