News of yesterday's $14.5 million settlement of a metal-bat injury lawsuit has already ricocheted from the newswires to the anti-legal system blogosphere. The denunciations of the amount given the family of Steven Domalewski for his ongoing care (and to pay the family's attorneys) have been as hard, swift and predictable as - well, as the flight of a line drive off the barrel of an aluminum bat.
Domalewski took a batted ball to the chest while pitching in a Police Athletic League game in June 2006, when he was 12 years old. Sent into cardiac arrest, the boy was rushed to a New Jersey hospital by paramedics who arrived within minutes, but he was left essentially brain dead.
His parents sued Hillerich and Bradsby (the bat's manufacturer), Little League Baseball (because the group certifies that specific metal bats are approved for and safe for use in games involving children) and The Sports Authority (the national sporting goods chain from which the bat was purchased), alleging that the bat was unsafe because baseballs could carom off it at much greater speeds than wooden bats. The latter two defendants had no immediate comment yesterday, while Stephen Keener, president and CEO of Little League Baseball Inc., said only that the settlement guarantees that "Steven Domalewski will receive the lifetime care he will require as a result of this tragic accident, a type of accident that is extremely rare in youth baseball." (The family's attorney said the settlement precluded him from discussing its details, including whether any of the defendants admitted liability.)
Are line drives struck off metal bats an obvious and inherent risk of playing baseball? Have bat manufacturers added to the risk by progressively improving bat technology? California Court of Appeals found 10 years ago that certain bats increase the risk to ballplayers, and said in remanding a case back to a trial court that evidence put forward by a college-age pitcher "raises a triable issue of material fact." (That case was eventually settled for an unspecified amount in 2002 with no admission of liability.)
Domalewski's family never had to have its day in court to bring similar evidence forward. To some, this demonstrates that, having gone after every increased risk - and that the legal system offers the only redress for families whose children have been maimed or killed taking part in America's pastime.