Lawsuits take the front page in pickleball news

Lawsuits take the front page in pickleball news

Lawsuits are an unfortunately frequent part of the news these days. Pickleball had avoided the lawsuit mess, until now. We have three lawsuits so far, arising from “paddlegate”, the controversy over the JOOLA 3 paddle. Two class action lawsuits have been filed against JOOLA and JOOLA has responded with its own lawsuit against USA Pickleball (“USAP”).
The controversy surrounds the JOOLA 3 line of paddles. These new JOOLA paddles were developed in 2023, and submitted for USAP approval late in 2023. Initial approval was provided. JOOLA then did an extensive marketing campaign and began selling the paddles. The paddles were quite successful, with many top pros signing on to use them, as well as amateurs buying them up by the thousands.
However, some complaints surfaced that the paddles were “too hot”, that they allowed players to hit the ball too hard. The arguments started about whether the paddles were too advanced, or dangerous, or bad for the game. As is so often true, beauty lies in the hands of the beholder; those who used the JOOLA liked it and thought it was fine. Someone hit by a shot off a JOOLA 3 may have had a different opinion.
Behind the scenes, unknown to the general pickleball public, paddlegate was starting. USAP and JOOLA disagree on exactly what happened, but the parties appear to agree that Joola subsequently submitted nine paddles for what is called “similarity testing”. This was designed to ensure that the paddles as marketed were the same as the paddles as previously tested. The parties agree the second set of paddles was not identical to the paddles as tested, but there the controversy starts.
USAP takes the position that because the paddles sent in for similarity testing were different from the paddles as tested, this invalidates the prior testing approval. Not only that, but USAP asserts the differences allow them to de-list the JOOLA 3s immediately and that USAP does not need to wait 18 months to de-list them, as appears to be required by USAP’s own published equipment standards.
JOOLA, of course, has a different take. JOOLA asserts the paddles as actually marketed are the same as the paddles approved by testing. They say the paddles submitted for similarity testing had a minor difference, consisting of some extra foam around the edges. JOOLA says these differences are immaterial, and JOOLA claims USAP is trying to change their testing protocols after the fact, due in part to pressure from other manufacturers.
This all leads us to the three lawsuits. Two of the three are class actions by JOOLA customers. They assert they bought the paddles believing they would be approved and that they would not have bought the paddles but for the belief in continued approval.  JOOLA has offered full refunds. As it appears we are talking about paddles in the amount of more than 100,000, we are talking about a lot of money at almost $300 a paddle.
JOOLA has filed its own lawsuit, against USAP. In the JOOLA lawsuit, JOOLA seeks damages for what it says is an improper and fraudulent withdrawal of the previously-granted approval. JOOLA is looking for damages for lost prior sales, lost future sales, and damage to their reputation. The damages sought by JOOLA are more than $100 million.
JOOLA also seeks an injunction. An injunction is a request that a court take action, usually early if not immediate action, to order the opposing party do something or refrain from doing something because otherwise irreparable harm will result. JOOLA wants the court to order USAP to re-list the paddles as approved, in order to moot the class action lawsuits and to allow JOOLA to sell the many paddles it has in inventory.
The costs of these lawsuits will be high. Lawyers, court costs, expert witnesses, travel expenses, etc., will all add up fast. USAP and JOOLA could easily spend upwards of $500,000 just prosecuting these lawsuits. USAP is unlikely to have insurance to cover all of JOOLA’s claims and indeed may not have insurance to cover any of them. Needless to say, USAP is not exactly an organization flush with money, so it is not inconceivable that USAP could be bankrupted by the JOOLA lawsuit.
Personally, I do not see how paddlegate benefits the sport, USAP, or JOOLA. Pickleball belongs on the court, not the courtroom. Fighting this out only guarantees that USAP and JOOLA personnel will have to turn over all their emails and other communications on the paddle approval process and we are likely to see some things in that discovery that USAP and/or JOOLA do not want seen. Rather than fight in the courtroom, I would encourage both USAP and JOOLA to take a step back, take a deep breath, and think about whether an expensive  courtroom is really where you want to be for the next year or more. Let’s settle paddlegate now, before the legal expenses get so high that settlement becomes impossible. If they don’t settle soon, one thing I will guarantee is that USAP or JOOLA and very possibly both will wish a year from now that they had done so.
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