[author: Aaron Kase]
A personal injury lawsuit filed on behalf of a boy who suffered brain damage during a little league game in New Jersey settled for $14.5 million last month. Steven Domalewski, now 18, sustained life threatening injuries in 2006 while pitching in a little league game when a baseball struck by a player using a metal bat came back and hit him on the chest.
The blow caught him at the exact spot and moment to cause a heart attack, and Domalewski lost oxygen to his brain for an estimated 15 to 20 minutes despite the efforts of first responders on the scene.
“Pretty much, he died,” his father told the AP. “It was just so fast. The thud, you could hear. When it hit him, that seemed to echo.”
Domalewski’s family sued Little League Baseball, the manufacturer of Louisville Slugger bats and the sporting goods chain The Sports Authority, claiming that it was dangerous to allow the metal bat to have been used because it can hit balls at greater speeds than wooden bats. The family sought damages to cover the perpetual care that their son now requires just to perform basic life functions.
The details were not disclosed, but the $14.5 million settlement speaks for itself as far as the defendants accepting responsibility for the accident that caused irreparable damage to one boy’s life.
Richard P. Console, Jr.
At a glance, the settlement might be surprising to observers who note that participating in sports involves accepting a certain amount of implicit risk as part of the competition. After all, actions that would be considered assault if they took place on public streets are okay and even sanctioned when they take place during a physical sport like football or hockey.
However, in this case, it’s easy to see where the league and bat manufacturer could be found negligent. “With a case such as this, the more cynical among us that feel our society has gotten too litigious will point to this case as an example, saying it was a freak occurrence which no one could have avoided,” says Richard P. Console, Jr., a personal injury attorney in New Jersey. ”However, if you are the parents of the child that is permanently disabled as a result of something that was a preventable injury, of course you’re going to be outraged by it. It is easy for people to be critical of litigation until they are the victims of negligence themselves, at which point they suddenly change their position.”
According to Little League Baseball, in the early 1990s they limited the performance of metal bats to match those of their wooden counterparts, which dropped injuries from 145 to 20 to 30 per year in an acknowledgement of the risks that powerful metal bats can pose. “Is that a step that should be taken?” Console says. “I think that most people would say yes — it’s not unreasonable to attempt to reduce the risks to children as much as possible. While we’re aware that there will always be risks inherent in sports, when it comes to children we should do everything possible to reduce those risks.”
What is the line between acceptable risk that players take on for participating in sporting events, and injuries that stem from negligence by the organizers? It’s hard to believe that anyone would assert that permanent brain damage is an acceptable outcome for playing in a baseball game. Ultimately, Console points out, it’s up to consumers themselves to draw the line through the jury system. “We have an inherent mechanism in place to make sure that the line is being drawn at the appropriate level — where the community’s standards are,” he says. “This is because a jury made up of people just like you and me that go in and decide whether a particular set of circumstances went over that line or not.”
“Organizations like Little League and bat manufacturers can change what the standards are, and they’re in a position to make minor changes that will save children from severe injuries,” says the attorney. “In this case, if the bat manufacturer and Little League voluntarily made a payment of this magnitude, it’s a sign that they feel the community at large would agree that the bat should have been safer.”
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