Friday, December 20, 2002
Court of Appeal Holds Pitcher’s Suit Against Maker of Aluminum Bat Not Barred by Assumption-of-Risk Rule
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district yesterday reinstated a suit by former California State University-Northridge baseball pitcher Andrew Sanchez, saying the assumption-of-risk doctrine is not an absolute bar to his claim that a popular brand of aluminum bat was negligently designed.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jane L. Johnson had granted summary judgment in favor of Hillerich & Bradsby Co., maker of the “Air Attack II,” as well as the Pacific-10 Conference, the University of Southern California, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
But the Court of Appeal reversed yesterday in an opinion by Justice J. Gary Hastings of Div. Four.
Sanchez, pitching in relief, was struck by a line drive off the bat of USC’s Dominic Correa in an April 1999 game won by the Trojans. An expert witness concluded the ball was traveling more than 100 miles an hour at the time, and that Sanchez had less than four-tenths of a second to react.
After a half-hour delay, Sanchez was taken by ambulance to County USC Medical Center with what his complaint said were severe head injuries.
At the time, USC was leading 11-4. It scored its 12th run on the play, and went on to a 17-9 victory behind pitcher Barry Zito, now a member of the Oakland Athletics and one of the top hurlers in the major leagues.
The incident occurred prior to the effective date of new NCAA rules requiring design alterations in order to reduce the speed with which a baseball travels off an aluminum bat.
College baseball, and other levels of amateur competition, embraced aluminum bats several years ago as a means of saving costs, since they do not break like wooden bats do. But critics argue that the bats are dangerous to pitchers and infielders who cannot react quickly enough to get out of the way of a sharply batted ball, while manufacturers claim that current versions of the bats do not propel a ball any faster than the best wooden bats.
In Sanchez’s case, his counsel argued that the primary assumption-of-risk doctrine does not apply because use of the Air Attack II significantly increased the risk inherent in pitching collegiate baseball. The trial judge, however, ruled that Sanchez would not be able prove that his injuries resulted from the alleged increased risk.
Hastings, writing for the Court of Appeal, disagreed.
“Appellant presented sufficient evidence to establish that use of this particular bat significantly increased the inherent risk that a pitcher would be hit by a line drive and that the unique design properties of this bat were the cause of his injuries,” the justice said.
At the time of the accident, Hastings said, there was already evidence that the newer bats like the Air Attack II created an increased risk of harm to players. He cited a 1998 letter by the NCAA Baseball Rules Committee to coaches, athletic directors, and other officials in which the committee said it had been “concerned about runaway bat performance for many years” and that “the risk of injury to pitchers and infielders is real.”
The plaintiff, he said, is entitled to a trial to determine whether the primary assumption-of-risk doctrine applies. If not, he noted, any assumption of risk would be considered secondary and comparative negligence principles would apply.
The case is Sanchez v. Hillerich & Bradsby Co., B15633.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company