Manufacturers of certain automatic baseball pitching machines tentatively agreed late yesterday to warn users to use caution around the machines even after they are turned off.
The exact wording of the agreement is expected to be reached today. It would remain in effect pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed against the manufacturers by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The CPSC said in its suit that the machines are dangerous and have caused serious injuries to consumers even when disconnected from any power source, and that their sale and distribution should be stopped immediately. CPSC at compromise notification procedure after a two-hour hearing yesterday afternoon before U.S. District Judge Howard Corcoran.
At least 5,000 of the machines have been distributed across the U.S. to athletic groups, schools and commercial pitching ranges, according to the government.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission said it became interested in the possible hazard involved in the machines after a 13-year-old boy was struck by the pitching arm this May when it fired unexpectedly after he touched the machine. The boy was hospitalized for five days with numerous cuts and a possible fractured nose, the government said.
The agency began investigating and found what it said were at least 14 severe injuries caused by the machines in the past 10 years or so, most of them after the machines were disconnected. Some of those persons injured suffered permanent brain damage or were permanently paralyzed, the government added.
If the pitching arm is cocked in a certain position even after the machine is turned off, it can be set off at the slightest vibration, the government said.
"Therefore, the usually cautious consumer, who would no sooner place his body within the downward arc of the arm while the machine is in operation than he would walk in front of a speeding car, is lulled into thinking the disconnected machine presents no hazard because it has no power to activate it," government attorney Justin McCarthy said.
The government asked in its court suit that the manufacturers be forced to stop the sale and manufacture of the pitching machines immediately, and to provide detailed "urgent warnings" to persons who own or operate them.
Attorneys for the manufacturers argued that the government was "overreacting" to the incidents by asking that an "urgent warning" be issued, and added that the firms already had agreed to send out a notice to users before the CPSC brought them into court.
Attorney Fred Fielding, representing the distributor of the machines, said they had been manufactured for 20 years and that no "immediate hazzard" necessitated the CPSC action.
Most recently manufactured machines are equipped with safety guards around the pitching arm that would minimize any risk or accident, and many of the models at issue are outdated because they throw only fast balls and not curve balls, as do many newer machines.
"This is not a design problem, it's a failure of people to follow instructions," Fielding said, although expressing sympathy for those injured by the machines.
The machines - which attorneys said could range in price from $150 to $1,800 - are marketed under the labels of "Blazer (Champ)," the "Professional," "Range," the "Pro-Trainer (Olympia)," and the "Dudley Automatic Pitching Machine."
Named as defendants in the suit were the Advance Machine Co., Inc., Spring Park., Minn., Commercial Mechanisms, Inc., Spring Park, Minn., Dudley SPorts Co., Dublin, Pa., Athlone Industries, Inc., Parsippany, N.J., and Master Pitching Machine, Inc., Kansas City, Mo.
Various officers of the companies also were named, including Paul S. Giovagnoli, the president of Master Pitching, who was described as the inventor of the line of pitching machines at issue.