In July, 2010, an eight-year-old girl referred only as “N.K.” in court documents sustained injuries when her foot became caught in the side skirt of a moving escalator at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Aquarium Station. At the time, N.K. was wearing Crocs-brand sandals and riding a few steps ahead of her parents. N.K.’s parents and other witnesses tried to stop the escalator by using its emergency stop switch, but that didn’t work. A good samaritan finally managed to pull N.K.’s foot out of the escalator before it reached the top. N.K.’s mother, Nancy Geshke, brought a products liability action in Massachussetts federal court against Crocs, Inc. We’re not sure if the elevator manufacturer or the MBTA were ever parties to the action, but in any event, the case proceeded against Crocs. In its opinion granting Crocs’ motion for summary judgment, the district court discussed the various warnings posted on the escalator itself, portraying children getting caught in the escalator and warning of the same in writing, so perhaps Plaintiff chose not to pursue that avenue. See Geshke v. Crocs, Inc., No. 10-11567-RGS (D. Mass. Sept. 7, ,2012) [PDF].
In the suit, Plaintiff alleged a design defect in the CROCS shoe and a failure on the part of Crocs to warn of the latent danger CROCS shoes posed to young children riding escalators. Plaintiff relied primarily on a Japanese study, which purported to conclude that Crocs-type sandals were extremely apt to getting caught in escalators, perhaps more than other styles or brands of children’s footwear.
Crocs, Inc. filed a motion for summary judgment, and it was granted by the district court. The court held that the study was never properly authenticated as a foreign document; it was inadmissible because no expert had been identified to explain the results of the study. In addition, the warning signs on the escalator depicting and warning of the danger of children’s shoes getting caught in the escalator precluded a failure to warn theory against Crocs. Finally, because Plaintiff’s negligence theories of defective design and failure-to-warn failed as a matter of law, her breach of warranty claims did as well.
This case is an interesting twist on the failure to warn theory. Crocs, the manufacturer of the footwear, relied on the warnings on the escalator as evidence that Plaintiff was warned about the risk of injury from exactly this type of accident. A good reminder that the warnings don’t always have to come from the actual product that a plaintiff alleges was the proximate cause of the injury – the warning itself is the issue, not what party is responsible for giving it to the user.