Trial lawyers take a swing at youth baseball

Curt Mercadante Mar. 1, 2009, 2:38am


As Mother Nature slowly relinquishes her icy grip and allows the cold Chicago winter to transition to spring – those of us who live and breathe Chicago baseball begin to get our annual "itch" for Lou, Ozzie and the boys of summer to take the field.

Kids across America start to prepare for their youth baseball leagues, signing up for their teams and getting fitted for their uniforms.

Unfortunately, some personal injury trial lawyers are also readying themselves for the baseball season, preparing a new line of lawsuits targeting injuries allegedly caused by metal baseball bats.

As a baseball purist, I am not a fan of metal bats. I believe the game was meant to be played with good, old-fashioned wood bats.

But that's my personal preference. And, without looking at the evidence, I might be easily persuaded that metal bats are less safe than wood bats.

However, organizations from the Illinois High School Association to the Consumer Product Safety Commission have concluded there is no evidence that non-wood bats are less safe than wood bats.

In fact, since 1964, a total of eight Little League pitchers have been killed by line drives off bats. Six of those deaths occurred from wood bats.

Does that mean we should move quickly to ban wood bats? Of course not. Nor does it mean that baseball bats should become a new source of profiteering for greedy personal injury trial lawyers.

A case in point is the recent effort by the Chicago City Council to ban metal baseball bats. Aside from the fact that the City Council probably has more important issues to deal with than putting metal bats in the same contraband category as foie gras – the Chicago Tribune reports that the proposed ban is being pushed by a local personal injury trial lawyer.

Why would a trial lawyer push such legislation? Simple – by using the City Council chambers as a faux courtroom, he can enter a wealth of cherry-picked "information" about the supposed dangers of aluminum bats into the public record. That public record can then provide convenient fodder in future efforts to extract money out of the baseball bat industry – or even the youth sports leagues in which so many thousands of American children play each year.

Or, better yet, if Chicago issues an aluminum bat ban – what better "evidence" of the dangers of these bats to use in lawsuits from Miami to San Francisco.

The side effects of this litigation, of course, could include job losses in the sporting goods industry – and even a financial hit to already-struggling aluminum manufacturers. Sports leagues might even get caught up in the lawsuits, forcing them to raise their fees or even shut down.

This would be just the latest case of children's fitness and development being caught in the crossfire of senseless litigation. In a recent interview, Dr. Olga Jarrett, associate professor at Georgia State University, said "the increasing fear of lawsuits is eliminating recess and removing playgrounds from America's schools, and it's coming at a cost to our children."

Dr. Jarrett, who prepares teachers to teach in urban high-poverty schools, has done considerable research on play and the need for children to have recess. In her interview, conducted for the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform's "" Web site, she said children's play is critical for healthy development – socially, emotionally, physically, and academically.

It appears that development has fallen victim to lawsuit abuse.

Every year the trial lawyers pursue a new line of profits – asbestos, vaccines, welding rods, lead paint. Last year, they even tried to garner $54 million for a lost pair of pants at the dry cleaners.

Now they're taking a swing at our National Pastime. For the good of our children and families, let's hope they strike out.

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