Monday, February 4, 2013

Appeals Court Affirms $775K Ruling in Wilson v. Hickox

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals has affirmedMarch 2011 Superior Court ruling in which Wilson Sporting Goods Co. was ordered to pay MLB umpire Ed Hickox $750,000 in connection with a 2005 jaw and inner ear injury allegedly suffered by the veteran official. Hickox's wife Lisa was awarded $25,000 for a total of $775,000. From Associate Judge Roy McLeese III's opinion:
Baseball umpire Edwin Hickox was injured while wearing a mask manufactured by Wilson Sporting Goods Company. Mr. Hickox and his wife brought products-liability claims against Wilson. A jury found for the Hickoxes on all claims. Wilson appeals, arguing that the Hickoxes presented expert testimony that lacked an adequate foundation; that Wilson was entitled to a jury instruction on assumption of risk; and that the evidence was insufficient to support the verdict. We affirm.
On May 14, 2005, Hickox took a foul ball to his mask (erroneously described by the court as "foul-tipped"), a traditional Wilson product given as a free sample. Hickox contended that the design of the mask contributed to his injuries, which included a concussion and permanent minor to moderate loss of hearing.

Specifically, the mask Hickox wore on May 14, 2005 allegedly possessed a newly designed throat guard that angled forward as opposed to the classic "dangling" throat guard which extends vertically downward.

The Hickoxes charged the foul ball struck the base of this angled throat guard, pushing the mask with great energy and force into Hickox's jaw and, allegedly, contributing to the injuries suffered. Hickox believed that had he been wearing another style of traditional mask or a hockey-style helmet, energy would have been dispersed or diverted and he probably would not have suffered the claimed injury.

The trial revealed Wilson had not performed testing on the type of mask used by Hickox on May 14, 2005 and that the mask's design was allegedly defective due to the forward angle of the throat guard. Hickox's attorney Patrick Regan had stated, "They were using the umpires and catchers as human guinea pigs."

The trial furthermore stated that while other companies sold forward-angled throat guard masks, those products were not associated with injuries like those sustained by Hickox.

The tort claims included strict liability for a defective product, negligent design, design defect and due to failure to warn and breach of implied warranty of fitness. The court rejected Wilson's arguments regarding inappropriate expert testimony and assumption-of-risk jury instructions; McLeese was joined on the bench by Associate Judges John Fisher and Kathryn Oberly.

This ruling is unrelated to the Hickoxes' still pending lawsuit against Wilson, filed in the New York Supreme Court. In that case, Hickox alleges that he was injured (concussion and left ear) when a foul ball struck his mask on April 18, 2009 while his wife has spent "considerable time caring for and assisting her husband."

Wilson Sporting Goods is a subsidiary of Amer Sports and is the manufacturer of MLB crew chief Joe West's patented West Vest, the only chest protector officially endorsed by professional baseball (both MiLB & MLB).


Jim said...

Do I think the ruling is a bit much, I guess, but I also have no clue how high Ed's medical bills are. I do know he was sidelined for a significant amount of time so part of this I'm assuming would be lost wages (again, I'm not sure if MLB's CBA with the umpires have a DL provision or anything like that).

But this is an example of that conversation we all have about player safety and someone (Hickox) actually furthering the discussion through action (the lawsuit). Football and player safety as we all know is a total disaster, the NHL has gotten better with improved gear and more attention to injuries - hockey routinely suspends now - and MLB as we know has the concussion procedure (7 day list).

Good to see the courts back up the committment here. I'm absolutely shocked that Wilson didn't think to test this product before giving it to Ed and even worse, have the rep who gave out the mask tell Ed it was tested safe! Slam dunk.

Jim said...

^Also, maybe he was also sidelined from his job with the police department down at Daytona Beach so some of that comes into play too.

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