NBA, Player on Plaintiff’s End of Product Liability Suit

NBA teams pay their players a lot of money. Last season, the league minimum salary was $490,180. With so much invested, team owners don’t like injuries to their star players. Especially when those injuries were caused by an allegedly defective product.

According to a report from The Sacramento Bee, the Sacramento Kings and Guard/Forward Francisco Garcia have settled their claims against Italian exercise ball manufacturer, Ledraplastic S.p.a. Apparently, the federal suit was the result of a fractured forearm sustained by Garcia when the exercise ball on which he was standing exploded while he was lifting two 90-pound dumbbells. The accident occurred in October 2009, shortly after Garcia had signed a 5-year, $29.6 million contract extension. Garcia missed the first four months of the following season recovering from his injuries. The team sought to recover the $4 million in salary they had to pay while their player sat on the bench recovering. While the financial terms of the agreement are confidential, the attorney for Garcia and the Kings indicated the settlement was “extremely beneficial” to his clients. When the plaintiffs are a well-compensated, finely tuned machine and his employer, we expect the attorney’s description was accurate.

Even though Garcia and the Kings’ damages may have been substantial, it would have been interesting to see how a jury would have handled the product liability claims against Ledraplastic. The basis for the plaintiffs’ claims is that the exercise balls warrant that they can withstand 600 pounds and claim to be “burst resistant.” In product testing during the litigation, the exercise balls were shown to burst around the 400 pound mark.

As an initial matter, the manufacturer’s claim to be “burst resistant” is not necessarily a fallacy. “Burst resistant” does not equate to “burst proof.” The ball undoubtedly was resisting explosion at all points up to 400 pounds. Therefore, the claim is accurate, to a degree. Unfortunately, the problems rest with the weight resistance points warranted by the manufacturer.

The fact that the ball ruptured at a point less than 600 pounds is not necessarily a deal breaker. For example, if the ball was being used in a manner outside its intended purpose (i.e. lifting weights while standing on the ball, perhaps), then the original resistance points may be legitimately compromised. However, it does not appear that Ledraplastic ever warned that weights should not be used in conjunction with the exercise ball – a warning that could be helpful when using exercise equipment. In fact, as part of the settlement, the manufacturer has circulated a letter among its distributors advising them that the ball should only be used with body weight.

Unfortunately for Ledraplastic, it had to learn about the need for this extra warning at the hands of a wealthy athlete and an NBA franchise.

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