It's natural to sympathize with the parents of Brandon Patch, the 18-year-old baseball pitcher who died after he was hit by a batted ball in 2003.
Sooner or later, sympathy must yield to logic and reason, so when Brandon's parents sued the bat's manufacturer, Louisville Slugger, and a jury awarded them $850,000, they contributed to the terribly misguided notion that behind every tragedy lies a lawsuit.
I haven't suffered what the Patches have suffered, and I pray that I never do. I understand that pursuing litigation gives them a sense that their son's random, pointless death was not so pointless.
However, the idiocy demonstrated by a Helena, Mont., jury won't bring back Brandon Patch, won't prevent similar accidents in the future, but will lead to more decisions based primarily on lawsuit avoidance rather than common sense.
Patches sued Louisville Slugger's parent company for failure to place warning labels on their metal bats, arguing that metal bats are more dangerous that wooden bats.
Shouldn't plaintiffs be required to demonstrate that a warning label would have caused them to stop their son from playing in games in which metal bats were used?
Warning labels, however, are clearly not the answer. They are so ubiquitous that everyone but the most risk-averse routinely ignore them.
Most of us understand "assumption of risk" — the concept that each of us makes choices every day that could, in rare circumstances, result in death or serious injury. We understand until a lawyer dangles before our eyes the prospect of six-figure verdict — and all he wants is one-third of the action.
I prefer wooden bats to metal bats — not for safety reasons but because metal bats are a scourge on the game, much like the designated hitter. The "crack" of a wooden bat is as American as apple pie; the "ping" of a metal bat is as hollow as the taste of the $2.99 store-bought substitute.
A ball hit by a metal bat travels about 4 percent faster than one struck by a wooden bat, but would Brandon Patch be alive if he had .391 seconds instead of .376 seconds to react?
Even if the answer is yes, which is far from certain, the key legal question is whether a warning label would have caused the league to use wood bats or caused Brandon's parents to stop him from playing.
Wooden bats, too, are inherently dangerous because baseball is inherently dangerous. (USA Baseball reports 39 on-the-field fatalities, some caused by balls hit by wooden bats, from 1989 to 2006.) No doubt, bats made of foam rubber would be safer still.