MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer HELENA
A jury on Wednesday found that the maker of Louisville Slugger baseball bats failed to adequately warn about the dangers the product can pose, awarding a family $850,000 for the 2003 death of their son in a baseball game. The family of Brandon Patch argued that aluminum baseball bats are dangerous because they cause the baseball to travel at a greater speed. They contended that their 18-year-old son did not have enough time to react to the ball being struck before it hit him in the head while he was pitching in an American Legion baseball game in Helena in 2003. The Lewis and Clark County District Court jury awarded a total of $850,000 in damages against Louisville, Ky.,-based Hillerich & Bradsby for failure to place warnings on the product. The teen's mother, Debbie Patch, was stunned by the verdict. The family rejoiced and cried as the verdict was read. "We never expected it," she said. "We just hoped we could get the truth out for more people to see." Patch said she hopes the decision will make more people aware of the dangers associated with aluminum bats and that more youth leagues will switch to using wooden bats. "We just want to save someone Else's life," Patch said. Attorneys for Hillerich & Bradsby declined to comment. They had argued that accidents are bound to happen in baseball games, and there's nothing inherently unsafe about aluminum baseball bats. A spokesman for the legendary bat-maker said Wednesday the company did nothing wrong and the verdict "appears to be an indictment of the entire sport of baseball." "We made a bat in accordance with the rules," Rick Redman said. "That bat was approved for play by baseball's organizing and governing organizations." Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association's Don't Take My Bat Away Program, a sporting goods trade group, said that while Patch's death is tragic, the exact same thing could have happened with a wooden bat. Curt Drake, one of the family's attorneys, said the jury arrived at the total by awarding $792,000 to Brandon Patch for his lost earnings and pain and suffering, an amount that goes to his estate. The family was awarded $58,000 for their pain and suffering and damages. Judge Kathy Seeley is still considering punitive damages in the case. In the verdict Wednesday, the jury also decided the product was not defective. Drake said that decision was not significant, since the jury found it posed a threat without an adequate warning label. The attorney said the family's victory will not likely change the way aluminum bats are used, but that it could help give momentum to efforts calling for a switch to wood bats in youth baseball. Metal bats came into vogue in amateur sports in the 1970s, but professional baseball still uses wood bats. Some amateur teams have decided to switch in recent years, in part due to Patch's death. "We should go back to the way baseball is supposed to be played, the way professional baseball is played," said Debbie Patch. Brandon Patch was pitching for the Miles City Mavericks when the ball ricocheted off his head, eventually falling behind first base after traveling as high as 50 feet in the air. Patch went into convulsions on the field in front of a horrified crowd and died within hours from his injury. His family's lawsuit was one of several in recent years involving aluminum bats made by Hillerich & Bradsby. Last year, the family of a New Jersey boy who suffered brain damage after he was struck by a line drive off an aluminum Louisville Slugger bat sued the company and others, saying they should have known it was dangerous. Steven Domalewski was 12 when he was struck by the ball in 2006. His family's suit is pending in New Jersey Superior Court. In 2002, the parents of teenage pitcher Jeremy Brett of Enid, Okla., won a jury verdict against Hillerich & Bradsby and were awarded damages. The couple filed suit after Brett was hit in the head with a ball hit off an aluminum bat made by the company, suffering severe head injuries. ___ On the Net: Brandon Patch Memorial, www.forever11. com.