Aluminum Bat
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Written by Rick Archer
May 2008

In my RESPONSIBILITY series, I have covered stories that range from the absurd to the tragic. 

In the ABSURD category, I would have to list Killer Whale Lawsuit as a good example of a lawsuit that should never have been filed.

In the TRAGIC category, I think the Deadly Desert Story is a prime example.  Sad to say, the story of the aluminum bat tragedy belongs in this same category as well.

However, the Deadly Desert Story and the Aluminum Bat Story differ in one significant way.  While I believe a lawsuit was called for in the Deadly Desert Story, as tragic as the Aluminum Bat Story is, I still believe the lawsuit was appropriate.

Read the case and decide for yourself.

Short Version of Story

Family files lawsuit in metal bat injury case
May 2008

WAYNE, N.J. (AP) — The family of a boy who suffered brain damage after he was struck by a line drive off an aluminum baseball bat sued the bat's maker and others on Monday, saying they should have known it was dangerous.

The family of Steven Domalewski, who was 12 when he was struck by the ball in 2006, filed the lawsuit in state Superior Court. It names Hillerich & Bradsby Co., maker of the 31-inch, 19-ounce Louisville Slugger TPX Platinum bat used when Steven was hit.

The lawsuit also names Little League Baseball and Sports Authority, which sold the bat. It claims the defendants knew, or should have known, that the bat was dangerous for children to use, according to the family's attorney, Ernest Fronzuto.

"People who have children in youth sports are excited about the lawsuit from a public policy standpoint because they hope it can make the sport safer," Fronzuto said after filing the suit Monday morning. "There are also those who are skeptical of the lawsuit and don't see the connection between Steven's injury and the aluminum bat."

Little League denies any wrongdoing, as does the bat manufacturer. Sports Authority has not responded to several telephone messages seeking comment.

Steven was pitching in a Police Athletic League game when he was hit just above the heart by a line drive. His heart stopped beating and his brain was deprived of oxygen for 15 to 20 minutes, according to his doctors.

Although he was not playing in a Little League game, the organization is being sued because it gave its seal of approval to the bat, certifying it as safe for use by children, Fronzuto said.


Long Version of Story

Family of boy disabled by line-drive baseball holds onto hope
By Wayne Parry
Associated Press

WAYNE, N.J. -- She wraps her arms around her son, gently raising the spindly 14-year-old boy off a couch to his feet. She hugs him and rubs his back, whispering “I love you” over and over. Steven Domalewski moves his head to kiss his mother, but all he can manage are slurping sounds in front of her lips. His head flops onto her shoulder, spent from the effort.

Less than two years ago, Domalewski was a happy, healthy star pitcher on a youth baseball team coached by his father. He loved martial arts, climbed every tree on the block and zoomed down his street on inline skates. He once shot an arrow into the wall of his basement rec room.

Now Domalewski is severely disabled, left with brain damage after being struck in the chest by a line drive that stopped his heart while he was playing in a youth baseball game.

His family plans to file a lawsuit Monday against the maker of the metal bat that was used in the game, against Little League Baseball and a sporting goods chain that sold the bat. The family contends metal baseball bats are inherently unsafe for youth games because the ball comes off them much faster than from wooden bats.

There has been a string of injuries the past two decades involving metal bats launching balls that have killed or maimed young players across the country. The Domalewskis’ lawyer claims bat manufacturers put speed ahead of safety; one even advertised a bat so powerful it is capable of “beaning the third baseman” with a line drive.

Attorney Ernest Fronzuto says Domalewski will needs millions of dollars worth of medical care for the rest of his life.

Other than the word “Yeah,” which he repeats over and over, or “Dadada” which he sometimes utters when he sees his father, Steven cannot speak. He also can’t walk or stand on his own, and needs help with everything from using the bathroom to eating.

“My son is serving a sentence, and the only thing he did was pitch to an aluminum bat,” said his father, Joseph Domalewski.

Life changed forever on June 6, 2006

Steven Domalewski’s life changed forever on June 6, 2006, an overcast evening in which his Tomascovic Chargers were playing the Gensinger Motors team on the Wayne Police Athletic League field.

Domalewski was pitching, on the mound 45 feet from home plate. He wasn’t a hard thrower, but he had excellent control. In the fourth inning, the first two batters reached base. He went to a full count on the third batter.

What happened next unfolded in a flash, but has resulted in an agonizing, slow-motion purgatory for Steven and his family.

The batter rocketed a shot off a 31-ounce metal bat. The ball slammed into Steven’s chest, just above his heart, knocking him backward. He clutched his chest, then made a motion to reach for the ball on the ground to pick it up and throw to first base.

But he never made it that far. The ball had struck his chest at the precise millisecond between heartbeats, sending him into cardiac arrest, according to his doctors. He crumpled to the ground and stopped breathing.

His father, a school teacher who had been on the sideline, and a third base coach from the other team ran onto the field. Steven already was turning blue.

Someone yelled, “Call 911!” Within 90 seconds, a man trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation who had been playing catch with his 9-year-old daughter jumped the fence and started to work on Steven.

Paramedics, who were a quarter-mile away doing a CPR demonstration, arrived within minutes. They placed an oxygen mask over Steven’s face and rushed him to a hospital. But the damage had been done; his brain had been without oxygen for 15 to 20 minutes.

“Pretty much, he died,” Joseph Domalewski said, wiping away tears. “It was just so fast. The thud, you could hear. When it hit him, that seemed to echo.”

Lawsuit against baseball-bat company

The lawsuit is to be filed in state Superior Court in Passaic County, naming Hillerich & Bradsby Co., maker of the Louisville Slugger TPX Platinum bat.

The suit also will name Little League Baseball and the Sports Authority, which sold the bat. It claims the defendants knew, or should have known, the bat was dangerous for children to use, according to the family’s attorney.

Hillerich & Bradsby said Domalewski’s injury, called commotio cordis, happens more often in baseball from thrown balls than batted ones.

“Our 124-year old, fifth-generation family-owned company never wants to see anyone injured playing baseball, the game we love,” the company said in a statement. “But injuries do occur in sports. While unfortunate, these are accidents. We sympathize with Steven and his family, but our bat is not to blame for his injury.”

Stephen Keener, president and chief executive officer of Little League Baseball, declined to comment on Domalewski’s case, but said in a statement, “Little League will continue its strong commitment to player safety, and we feel our well-documented record of safety in youth baseball speaks for itself.”

On its Web site, Little League denied that metal bats are inherently riskier.

“Little League International does not accept the premise that the game will be safer if played exclusively with wood, simply because there are no facts — none at all — to support that premise,” the organization wrote.

Representatives of The Sports Authority did not return repeated telephone messages.

Hotly dispute issue: Aluminum or wood?

The suit touches on a hotly disputed issue that has been roiling youth and scholastic baseball programs for years.

In 2003, Brandon Patch, an 18-year-old pitcher for an American Legion team in Helena, Mont., was hit in the head by a line drive off an aluminum bat and died several hours later. In Pennsylvania, 15-year-old Donald Bennett was struck in the face by a line drive from a metal bat while pitching in a 2001 game, causing him to lose an eye.

New York City and North Dakota have banned metal bats for youth and school sports, and New Jersey is considering a similar ban.

Several states are studying the issue. Pennsylvania rejected a proposed ban, and Massachusetts did likewise last year — two months after a high school freshman throwing batting practice was hit in the head by a line drive that fractured his skull. He survived and is expected to make a full recovery.

The National Federation of State High School Associations lets its members choose whether to use metal or wood; most colleges use metal bats.

Metal bats are priced at as much as $300 but are considered more cost-effective than wood bats — which sell for under $100 — because they are far less likely to break and can last for years.

Domalewski was playing in a Police Athletic League game, but Little League was sued because the group certifies that specific metal bats are approved for — and safe for — use in games involving children.

Little League reached an agreement with the major manufacturers of metal bats in the early 1990s to limit the performance of metal bats to that of the best wooden bats. On its Web site, the league said injuries to its pitchers fell from 145 a year before the accord was reached to the current level of about 20 to 30 annually.

The league said that since it started keeping records in the 1960s, eight players were killed by batted balls, six of which were hit by wooden bats. The two metal bat fatalities occurred in 1971 and 1973, before the new standards were adopted.

In 2002, the U.S. Consumer Safety Product Commission ruled that there was inconclusive data to support a ban on metal bats in youth and high school baseball games. Its own study found that from 1991 to 2001, there were 17 deaths nationwide because of batted balls — eight from metal, two from wood, and another seven of unknown origin.

Joseph and Nancy Domalewski pray that their son will return to what he was before the injury. But no doctor has told them that is likely.

“I miss my boy, the way he was,” his mother said. “You can’t take away our hope.”

“We describe our days as painful, and somewhat less painful,” his father added. “Our hope is that he walks and talks and becomes a functioning member of society and has kids.”

The Domalewskis have purposely left unfixed the arrow hole that Steven made in the basement.

“We’re saving that for him to spackle when he gets better,” his father said.


From the LA Times
-- Shari Roan

Considering how many kids play youth baseball or softball, it's surprising that there is a lack of agreement on whether aluminum bats are safe. A New Jersey family announced today that it is filing a lawsuit against the manufacturer of an aluminum bat as well as Little League Baseball and the store that sold the bat after the family's son was injured by a ball hit off an aluminum bat. The boy was 12 when he was struck by a line drive. He survived but suffered brain damage.

Some people say a ball comes off an aluminum bat with more force than off a wooden bat, making aluminum bats unsafe for kids. The issue has gained traction in some city councils and state legislatures. New York City last year banned metal bats from use in high school baseball games.

And a bill is before the Illinois state legislature that would make it illegal for any adult to knowingly allow the use of an aluminum bat during a recreational baseball or softball game in which a person under age 13 is a participant.

For its part, the Youth Committee of USA Baseball, of which Little League International is a member, said in a statement last year:

"There is no data to indicate that the few catastrophic injuries to baseball pitchers from metal bats would not have happened if the batter was using a wood bat."

The organization noted that the national Consumer Product Safety Commission also studied the issue in 2002 and concluded there is no evidence that aluminum bats pose a greater safety risk than wooden bats.

Recreational sports give kids opportunities for much-needed exercise as well as a chance to learn sportsmanship, self-discipline, teamwork and many other values. It's tough to stomach when a child is severely injured playing youth sports. But as the blogger lawhawk said Sunday:

"While I have tremendous sympathy for the family, I think the lawsuit will ultimately go nowhere as this will likely come down to a battle of the experts, who can and will show that there's no way to assign blame to the manufacturer or anyone else as the injury could also have been sustained as a result of the use of a standard wooden bat."



The bat story is important to all of us because it symbolizes every parent's worst nightmare - You give your child permission to play sports and then they get hurt.  Most parents agree that accidents are the risk you take when you let your child participate in sports.

Normally when a kid gets hurt, the kid heals.  Except in this case, the poor child is brain-damaged.  That is a tragedy.

The aluminum bat scenario is similar to the kid who gets hurt using playground equipment.  Every time a kid gets hurt, the church or the school or the city park cringes in fear lest the parent decide to sue or not.  

You have no idea how many lawyers advertise on the Internet hoping to represent a lucrative Monkey Bar injury! 

Coincidentally, I heard that a church in my neighborhood recently installed some sort of foam rubber padding.  Seems some kid broke an arm in a fall off the playground equipment.  For a while the parents threatened to sue, but eventually backed off. 

But the psychic damage of worrying about the possible lawsuit had its effect.  The church was so intimidated by the experience that it spent $10,000 making the ground softer in case Little Johnny fell again. The ground under the grass was much too hard!

As a result of stories like these, our entire society is gripped with fear of lawsuits.  Yes, the defendant may win the lawsuit, but he or she are certain to ultimately lose considerable money (lawyer's fees), time, and (most of all) peace of mind.

The entire experience promises to be prolonged and profoundly miserable for the defendant.  

Meanwhile, the attorneys on both sides couldn't care less - not only do they find a way to get their money, they aren't the ones who suffer.  Knowing that the attorneys will stick around forever until they get their blood money, many people give up.  They just throw the towel in and settle.  Even though they have a good chance of winning, the lawsuit is such an ordeal that many people would rather cut their losses and get their life back.

Until there is a realistic PENALTY attached to filing "unnecessary" lawsuits, you and I are stuck with this awful legal system of ours.

Below is an example of what you find on the Internet from our legal industry.  It took me 10 seconds to find it on the Internet by typing "lawsuit playground" on Google.   The law firms pay to get the first listings.  They are all lined up and waiting!

Playground Accident Lawsuits!!

If your child was hurt or injured in a playground accident, learn more about your legal rights!!

Annually in the United States, emergency departments attend to more than 200,000 children ages 14 and younger for playground-related accidents.

About 45% of playground related injuries are severe—fractures, internal injuries, concussions, dislocations, and amputations.

If your child was injured at a playground as the result of poorly kept play equipment, or at home due to a manufacturing defect, you may be entitled to compensation to pay for your child’s medical bills and pain & suffering.

You can use these pages to research the most common playground accidents, get playground injury statistics, and learn about some of the most dangerous playground equipment.

Contact the experienced premises liability attorneys of Shark & Shark by filling out the simple form below to inquire about your playground accident lawsuit.

Act Now! It is essential that you inquire about your Playground Accident case as soon as possible. Your individual state's law may limit your time to bring a legal claim to protect your rights. Your legal review is free and there is no commitment. Your case will be evaluated immediately, so get started on your claim today!

To a casual observer like myself, this kind of behavior by the law industry seems to make life harder for the rest of us.  Who wants to go on trial for allowing a kid to use your playground?   Who wants to go through the agony of a lawsuit for sponsoring a Little League baseball team?  

Life is short enough as it is without having a lawsuit filed against you for letting some kid play with a baseball bat.  Yes, the tragedy was horrible, but it was a one-in-a-million freak accident, not something that happens on a regular basis.

Let's face it - accidents are the risk people take for participation in sports.  That's the way it is.

Back when I was in high school, the most popular boy in school was a handsome, friendly kid named George.  One night out on the football field, George jackknifed his body between two blockers in an attempt to tackle the ball carrier.  George took a chance and stretched his body out awkwardly.  The two blockers hit George from opposite directions and turned him into a human sandwich. 

George didn't get up.  He would never walk again in his life.  His spinal column was shattered.

In one of life's great horrors, George's father was only twenty yards away when this horrible accident unfolded.  George's father was the football team's doctor.  Imagine the feelings this man must have felt.  That was his kid out there!

Every parent's worst nightmare was indeed unfolding right before his very eyes and he was helpless to do anything about it.

Fortunately this stuff doesn't happen very often.  In fact, this kind of accident is exceedingly rare.  This moment remains the greatest tragedy I have ever witnessed in my life.   It was very sad indeed.  But you know what?  Forty years later, there hasn't been another accident even remotely as horrible at my high school.  That's what it was - a once-in-a-lifetime horror story.

Let me add that George's father did not sue the school.  In fact, he continued on as the team's doctor.  He didn't hold the school responsible.  He didn't sue the equipment manufacturers.  George's father understood the same thing that every parent has to face - Sports involves risk.  There are accidents in life.   Sometimes those accidents happen to your kid. 

Before you give permission, you weigh the risks.  How likely is it that my kid will be badly hurt playing sports?  

And yes, it is terrible when someone gets hurt badly.  I am sure the family is still deeply mired in grief.  I imagine they are bitter and desperate to lash out at someone.  That still doesn't make it right to go out and sue every damn person you can think of because a baseball bat connected too well with a baseball and created a line drive so fast the poor child never had a chance.

But the family will never win.  There is one story after another where Major League Pitchers had their careers ruined by line drives... except in their cases the bats were all wooden.  How will anyone prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that this boy's accident would have not occurred if the bat was wooden?

In the case of the aluminum bat story, I suppose the chances of the family winning this lawsuit are very poor.  But there are a lot of people who are going to have their lives disrupted while they defend themselves in this lawsuit.  Before it's over, they will face a lot of suffering and accusations in the process... all because they volunteered their time to help with the Police Baseball League.

That isn't right.


If you have a comment on this story, by all means share it.  I had my say; now I am curious to see what other people think.  I will publish your thoughts without your name and email address.  You have my promise.


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