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Sanchez v. Hillerich & Bradsby Co.

12/19/2002

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION


Appellant Andrew Sanchez, a pitcher, was seriously injured when struck by a line drive hit by an aluminum bat. He filed suit against the bat manufacturer and others alleging that the design and use of this particular bat significantly increased the inherent risk in the sport of baseball that a pitcher would be hit by a line drive. Defendants moved for summary judgment asserting primary assumption of the risk and that appellant would be unable to prove causation. The trial court granted summary judgment when it concluded that appellant would be unable to prove that his injuries resulted from the alleged increased risk the particular bat posed to pitchers. We reverse. 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.


FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND


On April 2, 1999, appellant, pitching for California State University, Northridge (CSUN), was struck by a line drive off the bat of a player for the University of Southern California (USC), Dominic Correa. Appellant suffered serious head injuries from the incident. Correa was using an aluminum bat, the Air Attack 2, designed and manufactured by respondent Hillerich & Bradsby Co. (H&B;.


USC was a member of the Pac-10, a collegiate athletic conference. The Pac-10 was a member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), a non-profit organization of collegiate athletic conferences and other institutions. The NCAA establishes rules for equipment used in athletic events, including baseball bats. CSUN was a member of the NCAA, but not a member of the Pac-10.


The bat used by Correa was a newly-designed hollow aluminum alloy bat with a pressurized air bladder which, according to its designer, substantially increases the speed at which the ball leaves the surface of the bat. Correa was supplied with the bat pursuant to an agreement between USC and H&B; which provided that USC would receive compensation for using H&B;s Louisville Slugger equipment exclusively. At the time of the accident, the NCAA rules allowed the use of metal bats, and the bat was made in compliance with NCAA standards. However, prior to the start of the 1999 season, the NCAA notified athletic conferences under its umbrella, including the Pac-10, of the dangerous nature of the newer metal bats and of its decision to implement new rules to decrease the speed of the batted balls effective August 1, 1999. The Pac-10 implemented some of the proposed standards prior to the 1999 baseball season.


Prior to the commencement of the 1999 baseball season, appellant had signed a disclaimer form acknowledging that his participation on the team carried a risk of injury, specifically including brain damage, and consenting to assume the risk of such injury.


At the time of the injury, appellant and all of his team members were using metal bats, and appellant had used a metal bat in organized baseball games since he was six years old.


On March 17, 2000, appellant filed a lawsuit against H&B; USC, NCAA and Pac-10 asserting causes of action for products liability and negligence. Appellant later struck the product liability claim against USC and the Pac-10.


Each defendant moved separately for summary judgment. H&B;s motion was based on the following grounds: (1) that appellant could not establish causation as a matter of law; (2) the action was barred by the doctrines of primary assumption of risk and express assumption of risk; and (3) that H&B;was

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