Class action: $400 Louisville Slugger bats contain design bug, but maker tried to swing it as a feature

By Scott Holland | Jan 24, 2017

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 enrichment. 

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 Slugger museum. 

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.

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