After 12 hours of deliberation, a jury sided with the parents of former Miles City American Legion baseball pitcher Brandon Patch in a civil suit over the player's death during a 2003 game in Helena.
Aluminum bat maker Hillerich & Bradsby Co. failed to provide adequate warning as to the dangers of the bat used by a Helena Senators player during the game, at least eight of the 12 Lewis and Clark County jurors agreed Wednesday.
Hillerich & Bradsby Co. was ordered to pay $792,000 to Patch's estate, which is represented by his mother, Debbie Patch, who filed the suit. Those funds were allotted to cover the lost earnings Patch would have made had he lived, and the pain he suffered from the injury before he died about four hours after being struck in the temple with a batted ball.
"This was for Brandon and the kids on the field," Debbie Patch said after hearing the ruling. "We just hoped we could get the truth out for more people to see."
In the verdict read in District Judge Kathy Seeley's courtroom, the jurors found the company, which makes Louisville Slugger bats, liable for failing to warn users of the danger of its aluminum bats and that this failure caused the accident that killed 18-year-old Patch.
A third decision was that the bat was not defective. Attorneys representing Debbie Patch argued during the week-long trial that the bat used on July 25, 2003, was defective because it was more dangerous than the average user would expect.
Another $58,000 was awarded by the five-man, seven-woman jury to parents Debbie and Duane Patch for their mental grief and funeral expenses. The original suit, filed in June 2006, did not seek a specified amount.
Duane Patch shook and sobbed as the verdict was read. He clutched his wife in an embrace as they both wiped tears, and he repeatedly pointed to the sky, as if to his son.
"That's a grand slam," Duane Patch said as he hugged one of the family's attorneys.
Debbie Patch said they went into the suit unsure but hoping to prevail. When the jury went into a second day of deliberation, she wasn't sure if that would be in her favor. She said it was never about the money.
"We just want to save someone else's life," Debbie Patch explained, adding she hopes other players and parents now will get adequate warning about the dangers she perceives with aluminum bats.
While the Patch family doesn't have set plans for the funds, there has been talk of putting on a wooden-bat tournament in Miles City. That American Legion team, the Mavericks, only uses wood bats now.
"We should go back to the way baseball is supposed to be played," she said.
All teams should use wooden bats, the way professional players do, Debbie Patch added. Aluminum bats have been scrutinized because of the internal wall structure and because their weight is more evenly distributed than wooden ones, making them easier to swing harder and faster.
Attorneys for Hillerich & Bradsby Co. argued any other bat would not have hit the ball differently; in fact, they said, most bats on the market at the time would have struck the ball harder. Patch's death was a tragic accident, they said. The defense lawyers declined comment after the verdict was read.
Baseballs hit with aluminum bats, such as the one used in that American Legion game, only give pitchers milliseconds to respond in a defensive stance, the plaintiffs said. Plaintiff's attorney Joe White said the average time needed by a pitcher to defend a batted ball is 400 milliseconds. Patch had 378 milliseconds to respond, he said.
Eyewitnesses called by the plaintiffs said they could not see the ball between the time it left the bat and when it ricocheted off Patch's head. Patch collapsed on the mound. He died as a result of his injuries about four hours later.
"Brandon was with us," Debbie Patch said. "No. 11 showed up all of the time. He knows I wouldn't stop."
Reporter Angela Brandt: 447-4078 or email@example.com