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Aluminum Bats Update

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By Steve Kallas

Many of you who have listened to Rick Wolff’s “The Sports Edge” (Sunday mornings from 8-9 on WFAN) over the last few years are familiar with the cases of Steven Domalewski in New Jersey and Brandon Patch in Montana. Domalewski was severely injured by a ball hit off an aluminum bat in 2006; Brandon Patch died a few hours after being struck with a ball hit off an aluminum bat on July 25, 2003. The following is an update on where these two cases stand in the legal system.

THE STEVEN DOMALEWSKI CASE

Steven Domalewski was a 12-year-old pitching in a youth baseball game in Wayne, New Jersey, on June 6, 2006, when he was struck in the chest by a ball hit off an aluminum bat. His heart stopped and he couldn’t breathe for approximately 10-15 minutes. The commotion cordis condition caused brain damage to the point where he could not walk or talk and needed 24/7 care.

In May of 2008, The Domalewski family, by their attorney, Ernie Fronzuto of the New Jersey law firm of Wellinghorst & Fronzuto, filed a five-count lawsuit against, among others, Louisville Slugger (the maker of the bat), The Sports Authority (the seller of the bat) and Little League, Inc. (the organization that approved the bat for play). The suit seeks unspecified compensatory damages and punitive damages.

Attorney Fronzuto spoke exclusively with WFAN.com this past week. When asked about Steven’s present-day condition, he said: “Steven has made some progress but has not improved significantly. He has taken some aided steps, but he still can’t talk or walk or feed himself. He continues to battle and, of course, has the full support of his family.”

When asked about the status of the case, which was filed over two years ago, Mr. Fronzuto stated: “We are proceeding with discovery. We have taken the deposition of five representatives of Hillerich & Bradsby [Louisville Slugger], and have started taking depositions of Little League, including that of Stephen Keener of Little League International. There is a conference this week in state court in New Jersey.”

When asked about the possible time of a trial, Mr. Fronzuto could only guestimate that it would be sometime at the end of 2011.

While one can only imagine what Steven and his family have gone through and are going through today and everyday, one can only hope that a resolution in this matter could take place prior to over five years after he was hit and three-and-a-half years after the lawsuit was filed. But the wheels of justice turn slowly. Hopefully, Steven Domalewski can improve with time. (For a more detailed view of the complaint, see Kallas Remarks, 5/25/08).

THE BRANDON PATCH CASE

Many of you know that 18-year-old pitcher Brandon Patch was hit in the head by a ball off an aluminum bat during a youth baseball game in Miles City, Montana, on July 25, 2003. After seemingly gathering himself on the mound after being hit, Patch collapsed and died a few hours later at the hospital.

After failing to get a bill passed in Montana banning aluminum bats from youth baseball, the Patch family decided to file a lawsuit against Louisville Slugger, the maker of the aluminum bat used to hit the ball that killed Brandon Patch. In October of 2009, a state court jury in Helena, Montana found against Louisville Slugger and awarded $850,000 to the Patch family and the estate of Brandon Patch.

Louisville Slugger, which in 2002 lost a $150,000 federal lawsuit brought by pitcher Jeremy Brett and paid the verdict rather than appeal, has decided to appeal the jury verdict in the Patch case. One of the Patch family lawyers, Joe White, Jr., who was the trial attorney in the Brett case and one of the trial attorneys in the Patch case, spoke exclusively with WFAN.com to update the Patch appeal.

Mr. White stated: “The defendant [Louisville Slugger] had filed a motion for a new trial but that was denied. Now the defendant has filed its appellate brief before the Montana Supreme Court. We will file our response to their brief and then they will file a reply to our brief. Once all of the briefs have been served and filed, it usually takes somewhere in the vicinity of a year for the appeal to be heard. That should take us to the summer or fall of 2011.” (For more on the jury verdict, see Kallas Remarks, 10/28/09.)

It would be unusual for any court to overturn a jury verdict. The Patch family didn’t even want to file a lawsuit in this matter. They had tried to have a bill passed as law but, apparently, when push came to shove, the legislature would only pass a “resolution” suggesting that youth leagues in Montana use wood rather than the more dangerous metal. At this point, and with the public reaction to this across Montana and across the country, it would be hard to see a scenario where this jury verdict is overturned.

Having said that, you never know what will happen on appeal but the Patch family has made millions of parents aware of the issues, which have had reactions from New York City (banning metal bats from high school games) all the way to Marin County, California (where a similar ban is being proposed after 16-year-old Gunnar Sandberg was hit in the head earlier this year with a ball off an aluminum bat and put into a three-week coma after part of his skull was removed to save his life).

With awareness being spread nation-wide, hopefully the movement to ban these dangerous bats will spread across the country, making baseball (and softball) a safer sport to play on the baseball diamonds of America.

Steve Kallas is a New York City attorney who writes on sports and the law, youth sports and sports in general. More of his columns can be read at http://www.stevekallas.com.

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