Louisville Slugger lost an $850,000 lawsuit after the death of an 18-year-old pitcher killed in 2003 by a line drive to the head. The Montana Supreme Court ordered bat maker Hillerich & Bradsby to pay the family of Brandon Patch that amount in damages.
The court found the Louisville Slugger CB-13 aluminum bat was defective. Not because it was made incorrectly, but because the manufacturer failed to give notice that it could bring hits at a much higher velocity.
The American Legion pitcher was killed by a liner to the head. A tape of the game shows that Patch had 0.376 seconds to react to the hit; experts say he needed at least 0.4.
Lawyers for Louisville Slugger argued there's no evidence the pitcher in a baseball game would observe and follow such a warning, and so they had no obligation to warn anybody other than the buyer or user of a product.
However, as Forbes reports, the Montana Supreme Court cited cases involving tainted potatoes and improperly fumigated produce in ruling companies have a duty to warn not just consumers of products, but almost anyone who comes in contact with them.
The court decided on July 21, 2011 that such a warning would actually have some effect, communicating to all players the potential risk of harm associated with the bat's increased exit speed.
The ruling culminates a vicious battle that goes all the way back to 1998, when a former Louisville Slugger consultant named Jack Mackay blew the whistle on his old company. Five years later, Patch was killed by a batted ball in Montana.