Those ugly and ubiquitous Crocs shoes — and the cheaper knockoffs — have been involved in an international wave of serious injuries to the feet of young children on escalators.
At first I was skeptical when I began hearing last year of kids’ toes being mangled on escalators at the Atlanta airport. However, this article from Consumer Reports lays it out. Safety organizations in the U.S. and Japan have issued warnings about Crocs and other soft-sided clogs posing safety hazards to escalator riders. Typically, the shoe becomes entrapped when the rider is stepping on or off the escalator or standing too close to the side.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that 77 escalator entrapment incidents have been reported since January 2006, half of which resulted in injury. All but two of the incidents involved soft-sided flexible clogs and slides such as Crocs. The CPSC doesn’t reference the brand Crocs in its announcement but acknowledges that Crocs fall into the category of soft shoes they are warning about. In Japan, where 3.9 million pairs of Crocs were sold last year, the Trade Ministry asked the Colorado-based maker of Crocs to change the design of its shoes after receiving 65 complaints of Crocs and Crocs knockoffs becoming stuck in escalators between June and November of 2007.
Crocs is naturally pointing to every other possible cause of these injuries, including loose shoe laces (no laces on Crocs), escalator design, "improper use," etc. The CPSC joins in the obfuscation by issuing a long list of every possible rule for use of escalators known to humankind. I have noticed signs at the Atlanta airport that take the same broad, vague approach.
Most of the incidents appear to involve little children on escalators, often in airports where they are tagging along with parents in a hectic, somewhat unfamiliar environment where parents are likely to be in a rush, managing carry-on bags, and perhaps not totally focused on how the children are amusing themselves on escalators. Little feet in little, soft-sided shoes are more vulnerable to getting caught in the mechanism that bigger feet.
Interestingly, I haven’t seen any comparable stories of essentially bare feet in flip flops or sandals, or feet clad in sneakers or other lace up shoes, being injured on escalators. I don’t know of any statistical analysis of the risk of escalator injuries in Crocs, and expect that any product liability suit against the manufacturer would be met with a barrage of pseudo-scientific studies sponsored by the company, and exhaustive Daubert motions to exclude any evidence for the injured children.
However, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, maybe it’s a duck. If I still had young children, I would decide for them what my college kids have apparently decided for themselves: don’t buy those "(expletive deleted) ugly shoes." At minimum, I wouldn’t let them wear them when going to places with escalators. There are plenty of other shoe styles that can be slipped off and on easily at airport security that don’t present a known risk of injury. If bigger kids or adults, with bigger feet and more discretion, want that style, that’s their choice.
Ken Shigley is a seasoned Georgia trial lawyer focused on cases of catastrophic personal injury and wrongful death. He has served as chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Liability Institute, and is a frequent speaker at national continuing legal education programs on trucking liability cases. Mr. Shigley has been rated as a "Super Lawyer" (Atlanta Magazine), one of the "Legal Elite" (Georgia Trend Magazine), and a Certified Civil Trial Advocate (National Board of Trial Advocacy,). He served a decade on the faculty of the Emory University Law School Trial Techniques Program. Mr. Shigley is currently Secretary of the 40,000 member State Bar of Georgia. To increase capacity for handling more and larger cases, he recently became "of counsel" with the law firm of Chambers, Aholt & Rickard which has an extensive trucking liability practice.