Unreasonably Dangerous Underwear

tighty whities

Dangerous product?

A large guy (280-90 pounds) ironically won a one-week trip to Hawaii as a reward for selling more than $20,000 in diet products. But in a lawsuit against Hanes, the underwear maker, he alleged his “dream trip” went awry due to allegedly defective briefs which “gaped open and acted like a sand belt on my privates,” causing injury.

We’ll let the court elaborate on this interesting products liability case:

Plaintiff testified that by the second day in Hawaii he was in debilitating pain. However, … he ignored the pain until he returned to Pensacola two weeks later. He explained he was able to ignore the pain because he was enjoying himself so much on this long anticipated vacation that he did not dwell on or focus on the pain to any degree.

Plaintiff testified he believed sand that he picked up in his swim trunks while enjoying the Hawaiian surf had irritated his penis. Over the next few days he and his wife “walked all over the place” until his condition worsened to the point that he “could hardly walk.” Plaintiff testified his inability to walk was caused by defendant’s defective manufacturing of his underwear which caused his “fly” to gap open. The gap resulted in his penis protruding from his underwear, whereupon the edges of the opening abraded his penis like “sandpaper belts.” …

Under cross examination plaintiff admitted he never examined his penis to assess the problem and/or treat the problem. He testified he is a “belly-man” and his “weight” prevents him from looking down and seeing his penis. He further testified he declined to use the hotel mirror to view the “injury” because that is “not something he would do.” He also testified he did not ask his wife to examine his penis because he would never ask her to do such a thing, nor would he want to let her know about his pain because it would have “ruined her vacation” as well. …

So how does one prove a complex products liability case like this one? How else? Bring on the experts! Nothing like an in-court reenactment to drive home a point (will resist the obvious “if they do not fit, you must acquit” joke):

Both the plaintiff and the defendant’s expert demonstrated the “tensions” that are placed on men’s underwear. This was done by holding the allegedly “defective” underwear and placing it under various “stresses” while comparing it with similar briefs made by other manufacturers, as well as other old, worn out Hanes brand briefs owned by plaintiff.

The uncontroverted expert testimony was that once a man’s genitalia are adjusted in his briefs, “vertical tension” is far greater than horizontal tension and there is no tendency for the fly to “gap.”

Based on the expert testimony, the judge concluded that “it was clear to the court that plaintiff’s underwear would not have ‘gaped’ open as contended by plaintiff because the tension load on men’s underwear is vertical and not horizontal.” The court speculated that it was more likely that plaintiff’s problems were caused by the “plaintiff’s manner of getting into his underwear,” which was to put them on at the same time as his pants.

The surprising legal lesson of this case is that expert testimony about tighty-whities fit can apparently pass scrutiny as scientifically valid under Daubert.

Freed v. Hanes Brands, Inc., Case No. 2009 SC 003087 (Fla. Escambia County Ct. Oct. 12, 2009). Thanks to Cecile Mendizabel and others.

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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