skip to Main Content

Zion Williamson Product Liability lawsuit against Nike? Probably Not.

It was bizarre, and undoubtedly the worst scenario Nike could have imagined, but it’s unlikely last week’s failed shoe spectacle will result in an injury lawsuit.

Zion Williamson, Luke Maye. Duke’s Zion Williamson (1) falls to the floor with an injury while chasing the ball with North Carolina’s Luke Maye (32) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Durham, N.C. – Gerry Broome/​AP/​Shutterstock

by Matthew E. Bass, attorney, Leesburg, Winchester

Millions of people recently tuned in to watch one of the most anticipated matchups of the men’s college basketball season: the game between archrivals Duke and North Carolina. Many tuned in to watch Duke freshman sensation Zion Williamson, who is widely expected to be the first player selected in the 2019 NBA Draft. Less than 1 minute into the game, as Williamson dribbled the ball near the top of the key, he appeared to lose his footing and fell to the ground. He grabbed his knee in pain. He was later diagnosed with a Grade 1 knee sprain. Replays showed that his Nike shoe literally fell to pieces, coming apart at the seams, raising the question of whether Williamson, on track to earn many millions in the NBA, might have a products liability lawsuit against Nike.

Michael McCann of Sports Illustrated wrote a detailed article outlining the potential for legal action pertaining to Williamson and Nike, which has a contract with Duke to provide athletic equipment and apparel for its 27 athletic teams. The question of whether Williamson’s injury – characterized as a “mild knee sprain” by Duke head coach Mike Kryzewski – could potentially lead to a products liability suit against Nike is a nuanced legal question with several key unknown variables at this time, not the least of which is the extent of Williamson’s injury. Products liability cases in Virginia tend to allege negligence and breach of warranty, although occasionally they will claim fraud or breach of statutory duty as well. With few exceptions, however, Virginia does not recognize the doctrine of strict liability in products liability cases. The prevailing sense among Virginia personal injury lawyers is that Virginia is a difficult venue in which to successfully prosecute products liability claims. Williamson’s injury, of course, occurred in neighboring North Carolina, where products liability laws may differ.

There have also been reports that Williamson has a Loss of Value insurance policy worth up to $8 million. With Williamson’s unique physical build – the 6’7”, 284-pound 18-year old is routinely compared to LeBron James – and explosive playmaking ability, there is also a valid question as to whether $8 million adequately covers Williamson’s losses if, for example, his knee injury turns out to be more serious than reported and lingers throughout his career. At Burnett & Williams, we see many serious injury cases where there simply is not sufficient insurance coverage available to cover the extent of our client’s injuries. Although it is hard for most of us to imagine, Williamson likely stands to make many times the value of his reported insurance policy. And as Michael McCann points out, you will probably never hear of a products liability lawsuit against Nike, which undoubtedly will go to great lengths to keep this bizarre occurrence quiet, while keeping its fingers crossed that Williamson returns from injury in time for March Madness, where the Blue Devils will be a favorite to win the national championship.

If you or someone you know has suffered a serious injury, or even if you have questions about what levels of insurance you should maintain in case of serious injury, please do not hesitate to contact the attorneys at Burnett & Williams.