Aluminum Bat Wrongful Death Verdict Affirmed

The Montana Supreme Court affirmed an $850,000 award to the parents of a baseball player who tragically died after being struck by a ball hit with an aluminum baseball bat.

If your kids are playing baseball – particularly if they are pitching – you have thought about these facts. An 18-year-old boy is pitching in an American Legion baseball game and gets hit in the head. Just an awful case that makes you question whether or not your kids should be playing any sport. There is no completely safe game.

This case is a classic product liability failure to warn case. But there were some difficult twists. The plaintiffs first had an easy hurdle to climb in arguing that an aluminum bat is more dangerous to fielders and bystanders than a wooden bat. That is manifest.

But this also works against the failure to warn case because there is an “of course you knew” element. Then, maybe the harder hill to climb was whether there was a duty to warn about that increased risk and whether it would have made a difference. The plaintiffs also had to deal with the conceptual problem: how would a warning on the bat have impacted the pitcher. Ironically, Justice Jim Rice (also the name of a Red Sox legend) underscored these concerns in a concurring opinion which reads like a dissent until he gets to the end and says, essentially, “But, well, I defer to the jury.”

My bet is that when my kids get to high school, everyone is using wooden bats. So while I have serious questions about the jury’s verdict, in this case, I think the end of aluminum bats for kids over 10 will be a good byproduct of this case and the ones that are sure to follow.

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