By: Michael Seinberg
In 2006, Steven Domalewski was a normal 12-year-old pitching in a little league game in New Jersey. Seconds later, his life changed forever. His pitch was hit by a batter and the line drive came back and struck him in the chest. He was sent flying backwards and the impact caused his heart to stop. It took 15-20 minutes for rescue workers to revive him. Tragically, because his brain was deprived of oxygen during that time, he suffered major brain damage. Now 19 years old, he is mostly blind and in a wheelchair with only minor speech abilities.
After the accident, the Domalewskis sued the league, Sports Authority, and the maker of the Louisville Slugger aluminum bat, Hillerich & Bradsby Co. The case was recently settled for $14.5 million after working through the system for a good six years but the real crime here is nature of the settlement. Of the $14.5 million, $698,035 will go to pay the family’s attorney’s fees and another $4,037,991 will go to the lawyers as part of a previously agreed upon 25 percent contingency fee.
The crux of the lawsuit was the idea that aluminum bats posed a hazard to young players because they could hit a ball harder and faster than a regular wooden bat. Given this, Little League actually required manufacturers to make sure aluminum bats could not hit any harder than a good wooden bat. They did this back in the 1990s, decades before this accident took place.
The Domalewskis sued for emotional pain and suffering plus other damages under product liability and consumer fraud laws. There’s no doubt that their son’s injury was tragic, but holding the bat company liable – as well as the league and the bat distributor – raises eyebrows, as it appears to be motivated more by financial gain than the fair administration of justice.
“With this settlement, Steven Domalewski will receive the lifetime care he will require as a result of this tragic accident, a type of accident that is extremely rare in youth baseball,” said Stephen D. Keener, president and chief executive officer of Little League Baseball, Inc.
One wonders how Mr. Keener feels knowing 25% of that money won’t have anything to do with Steven’s long term care. The truth is, the attorneys in this case took full advantage of a tragedy and profited handsomely. If they truly cared for their client, they would have accepted their almost $700,000 in fees and moved on. Instead, they’re taking a huge cut of a sum that should, by rights, be going to help a young man live comfortably and safely for the rest of his life.
The lawyers may have hit a financial home run, but they struck out morally.