Local Baseball League Granted Summary Judgment in Aluminum Bat Case

In one of the first product liability suits in the country challenging the safety of youth aluminum alloy bats, Wade Clark Mulcahy senior partner Paul Clark and associate Alison Weintraub successfully obtained summary judgment on behalf of the third-party defendant Wayne Police Athletic League in the Superior Court, Passaic County.

Steven Domalewski, age 12, was injured when struck by a batted ball while pitching in a PAL game on June 6, 2006. The line drive struck him and induced a commotio cordis event that sent Domalewski’s heart into ventricular fibrillation. This catastrophic condition is triggered by the confluence of four factors:  (1) a blow delivered at a precise moment in the cardiac cycle; (2) within a tight range of speeds; (3) to the chest wall directly over the silhouette of heart; and (4) by a hard object, in this case, a batted baseball.

The Wayne PAL employees and volunteers came to Domalewski’s aid almost immediately, by both calling 911 and initiating CPR until the trained first responders took over young Steven’s care. Though the Wayne PAL owned an automated external defibrillator (“AED”), it was never used on Domalewski while manual CPR efforts continued on the field by a coach, bystander and first responders. However, the trained  and certified first responders did not use their AED on Domalewski while initially working on him, and he was later cardioverted only after he was placed inside the ambulance that responded to the scene.

Domalewski survived the accident, which was statistically unlikely, but suffered a severe hypoxic ischemic brain injury. As a result, Steven requires 24 hour care and highly specialized medical treatment. His parents commenced suit against Hillerich and Bradsby Co. d/b/a Louisville Slugger (“H&B”) and Little League Inc. (“LLI”), H&B for manufacturing an allegedly defective baseball bat, and LLI for granting H&B the license to stamp the bat “approved for play in Little League” allegedly without performing any safety tests before such approval was granted.  H&B and LLI, in turn, commenced a third party action against the Wayne PAL claiming that it was grossly negligent in failing to use its available AED, failing to have a written safety plan and failing to have proper field dimensions.

After the close of  intensive and lengthy discovery, the Wayne PAL moved for summary judgment based New Jersey’s Charitable Immunity Act. The court granted the Wayne PAL’s motion and held that the organization fulfilled its required duty of care when it summoned emergency help and that, even if true, the failure to have a written safety plan and proper field dimensions did not constitute gross negligence or cause the plaintiff’s accident and injuries as a matter of law.

After the Wayne PAL’s dismissal, the plaintiff, H&B and LLI reached a settlement for $14,500,000 that made national headlines and was reported, for example, in the New York Times and ESPN. No appeal of the summary judgment decision in favor of the Wayne PAL is anticipated.

If you have any questions or comments about this post, please email Paul at pclark@wcmlaw.com.