$1,400,000 – Baseball Helmet Injury

A high school student was injured on April 24, 1981, during a varsity baseball game when he was struck on the helmet by a pitch.

Plaintiff brought an action against American Baseball Cap., Inc. (“ABC”), which was the designer and supplier of the helmet. Claims were also asserted against ABC’s plastic molding subcontractor and against the store that sold the helmet to plaintiffs high school. Plaintiff alleged that the helmet was not designed with sufficient padding to protect against the force generated by a pitch. The helmet allegedly provided protection for pitches thrown at up to 40 mph for direct flush hits on the side of the helmet.

Discovery indicated that ABC had tested its helmets only twice during the 34 years that the helmets were on the market. In 1969, tests by the United States Testing Company indicated that the helmets “bottomed out” under standards applicable to motorcycle helmets. In 1977 Dr. Voight Hodgson of Wayne State University conducted further tests. Dr. Hodgson testified that a helmet should reduce the severity index values below 1500. The 1977 tests indicated that the severity index for a pitch at 58 mph was 2232, which was worse than any other helmet tested. Dr. Hodgson testified that in 1977 he recommended to ABC that the size of the shell be increased to accommodate more padding. However, ABC did not do so until 1982, when the passage of the National Operating Committee for Standards in Athletic Equipment required all helmets to meet the 1500s level at 60 mph impacts.

Intracerebral hematoma that required surgical removal. The brain injury caused impairment of his short-term memory. Plaintiff suffered severe paralysis of his right arm and partial paralysis of his right leg, which caused a slight limp.

$1.4 million cash settlement toward which ABC contributed $1 million, the plastic molding subcontractor contributed $300,000, and the sporting goods store contributed $100,000.

Plaintiff’s Expert Witness:
James McElhaney, Ph.D., biomechanical expert/helmets, Duke University.

Plaintiff’s Attorneys:
Robert J. Mongeluzzi of Daniels, Saltz & Associates, Philadelphia, Pa.

Allen v. American Baseball Cap., Inc., No. 2918 (Philadelphia Ct of Common Pleas, Pa.).

Plaintiff’s attorney, Robert J. Mongeluzzi, comments that the outcome of this case reflects the necessity of rigorous discovery and the acquisition of all prior files involving earlier litigation against a defendant. Plaintiff had to attack a product that was being used by many high schools and colleges and by every Major League player at the time of the incident. Plaintiff’s expert, Frederick Rappleyea relied on a Consumer Products Safety Commission report that indicated that approximately 10,000 injuries per year could be prevented by the use of improved helmets. Mr. Rappleyea was also prepared to testify that ABC failed to adequately investigate the nine known brain injuries that it was aware of. Investigation of these accidents would have shown ABC that its helmets lacked adequate energy management.

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