Nike Could Be Liable for Duke Player’s Knee Injury (1)

Feb. 21, 2019, 6:13 PMUpdated: Feb. 21, 2019, 7:41 PM

Duke basketball forward Zion Williamson may have a case against Nike Inc. after he sprained his knee in a game against North Carolina Feb. 20, a plaintiffs’ lawyer tells Bloomberg Law.

The star freshman forward slipped and fell less than a minute into the game, ripping the length of his Nike shoe sole in the process. The Blue Devils eventually lost the contest 88-72.

The catastrophic failure of the shoe has all the earmarks of a product liability case, Paul Edelstein, of The Edelsteins Faegenburg & Brown in New York said Feb. 21

“This would be a classic product liability case if Mr. Williamson suffered any type of serious injury and was inclined to bring one,” Edelstein said. “This product was specifically designed to provide support for athletes such as him and clearly failed.”

Edelstein represents athletes in brain injury and other sports-related litigation.

Although Duke officials reported that Williamson suffered only a mild knee sprain, that doesn’t necessarily get Nike off the hook.

“If I were Nike I would be shaking in my Air Jordans,” plaintiffs’ lawyer Brad Sohn, of the Brad Sohn Law Firm in Coral Gables, Fla., said.

Sohn represents athletes in sports-related injury litigation, including concussion cases against football helmet manufacturers.

“There is no reason to think a biomechanics analysis of the shoe wouldn’t turn up flaws,” Sohn said. “And one such flaw translates potentially into strict liability for seismic impaired earnings.”

Edelstein agreed, noting that the shoe’s failure was “the direct cause of an injury to the user of the product” and isn’t “any different than a laborer climbing a ladder that suddenly collapsed under his weight.”

Absent proof that the shoe was misused or damaged after its manufacture, Williamson has a good case, he said.

Duke has long had an association with Nike as its exclusive apparel supplier, and is in the fourth year of a 12-year contract.

It isn’t clear whether that contract excludes or otherwise limits personal injury claims arising from the failure of shoes Nike supplies.

“Often one party will agree to indemnify the other as to any number of issues,” Sohn said. “It becomes legally significant for Williamson when and if the college contractually or otherwise assumes responsibilities related to things such as warning or fit-for-use inspection.”

Nike didn’t answer that question in Feb. 21 email to Bloomberg Law, but did say “the quality and performance of our products are of utmost importance.”

“While this is an isolated occurrence, we are working to identify the issue,” the company said.

(Updated with additional reporting.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Steven M. Sellers in Washington at ssellers@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bloomberglaw.com; Nicholas Datlowe at ndatlowe@bloomberglaw.com

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