Shoes at the Center of a Product Safety Recall and a Products Liability Lawsuit

The law of products liability enables consumers to recover damages if they suffer injury because of a design or manufacturing defect, a failure to provide adequate instructions for using a product, or a failure to warn of a known risk associated with a product. Agencies like the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) work to protect the public from dangerous or defective products by encouraging or ordering recalls before they cause excessive damage. Consumers also have the right to sue for damages on their own behalf. Two recent items in the news illustrate these two approaches, and both of them involve shoes.

The CPSC announced on February 20, 2014 that Eastman Footwear is recalling 12,200 units of Coleman Runestone Style children’s shoes sold at Big Five Sporting Goods stores during the calendar year 2013. The reason for the recall is described by the CPSC as a “laceration hazard” associated with metal rivets surrounding the shoestring holes. The CPSC received a single report “of an adult who scratched or cut his finger, but did not require further medical attention.

A nationwide recall might seem like overkill, based on the available facts, but it was undertaken voluntarily by the manufacturer. Sometimes caution, in this case a recall, is a better strategy than risking additional, possibly more-severe injuries. Now that the CPSC has announced the recall, consumers are advised to stop using the product, and resale of any units subject to the recall is illegal.

A $100 million products liability lawsuit in Oregon has generated considerable attention because of the subject matter. The plaintiff is claiming that Nike is liable to him for damages for failing to put labels on their shoes warning that they could be used as weapons. He was convicted last year of several counts of assault for severely beating two people in June 2012, which included stomping on at least one of his victims while wearing Nike Air Jordans. He is currently serving a 100-year prison sentence.

The plaintiff filed a pro se lawsuit from the prison in early January 2014, naming Nike, its chairman Phil Knight, and several other executives as defendants. He characterized the shoes as a “potentially dangerous product” and alleged that the defendants failed in their duty to warn of the risk of injury or provide adequate instruction for the use of the product.

The lawsuit is unlikely to succeed for a number of reasons. Courts have ruled that shoes can constitute deadly weapons in the context of criminal law, Arthur v. United States, 602 A.2d 174, 177 (D.C. App. 1992), but civil products liability claims use a different standard. Courts have generally held that a manufacturer is not liable for failure to warn of risks associated with “abnormal handling” of a product. Benjamin v. Wal-Mart Stores, 61 P.3d 257, 265 (Or. App. 2002). It would be difficult to argue that using Nike shoes in the course of an assault is not “abnormal handling.”

The products liability lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen help people in the Washington, DC area recover compensation for injuries caused by defective or dangerous products. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we may assist you, contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949.

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