Louisville Slugger and Wilson Sporting Goods are defendants
in a federal class action complaint over the quality of $400 baseball bats.
George Alea, of Miami, filed his complaint Jan. 23 in
Chicago, alleging an inherent flaw in Lousiville Slugger’s Prime BBCOR bats
that causes the handle to rotate independent of the barrel. He said the
companies are aware of the design flaw, but rather than honor warranty terms
and issue replacements, opted instead to pursue “the unorthodox approach of
creating a post-hoc marketing regime focusing on (and, indeed, promoting) the
defect, as if it were deliberate.”
Alea said he bought a 2016 Louisville Slugger Prime 916
BBP9163 BBCOR on Feb. 17 for $425, for his son, Rod, to use during high school
games. They noticed the flaw soon after, and in the complaint stated, “There is
no benefit or increased performance as a result of this movement. Rather, the
independent rotation of the handle and the barrel decrease the power and detract
from the performance of the bats.”
As part of his complaint, Alea cited promotional material
Louisville Slugger used from June 2015 through April 2016, noting no mention of
the independent barrel rotation. He also cited more than two dozen online
customer reviews containing complaints about how quickly the bats break, as
well as concerns about corporate return and replacement policies.
“The bats … are not fit for the ordinary purpose of hitting
baseballs and do not conform to the promises and affirmations made on their
labels and packaging,” the complaint alleged.
Alea said new marketing material appeared by May 3, 2016, touting
a “Dynamic Socket Connection” that “allows for slight movement between the …
barrel and handle to further maximize barrel trampoline effect and eliminate
negative vibration.” However, he alleged there had been “no changes to the
design or manufacturing process” from what was originally advertised.
That change in marketing language, he argued, is evidence
the manufacturer “hatched a scheme to deny warranty claims and act as if the defect
was instead a noteworthy feature of the bats.”
The complaint includes one count of violating consumer
protection statutes in Florida, California, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey and
New York, and the class would include anyone who bought a bat after April 1,
2015, while living in those states. Class membership would be open nationwide
for the alleged violation of the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.
Alea argued Lousiville Slugger’s “marketing and advertising
constitute express warranties,” and failure to deliver a bat meeting those
claims qualifies as a break of those warranties. He further detailed the
company’s failure to replace the bats, and also included a count of unjust
In addition to class certification and a jury trial, Alea seeks
damages and restitution, as well as a court order forcing Louisville Slugger to
remove misleading claims on its products.
Wilson, based in Chicago, bought Louisville Slugger from
Hillerich & Bradsby in March 2015 for $70 million. As part of that transaction,
Hillerich & Bradsby retained rights to wooden bats and the Louisville
Representing Alea in the matter, and seeking to serve as
class counsel, are attorneys from the St. Louis and Washington, D.C., offices
of Cueno Gilbert & LaDuca, LLP, as well as the firm of Baron &
Herkowitz, of Miami.