$1 million awarded in bicycle crash

by Walter Olson on July 1, 2010

Most curious angle, as reported in the Tulsa World:

The plaintiffs alleged that the bike was “inherently defective and dangerous” because of the defective front fender bracket, which broke within the first week the bike was used.

Pacific Cycle countered that it had designed and manufactured an ordinary “pedal powered” bicycle but that a third party had retrofitted it with a motor.

The company claimed that the mounting of the motor was “unforeseeable misuse and modification” of the bike.

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July 9 roundup
07.09.10 at 7:53 am

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1 Doug 07.01.10 at 12:39 pm
2 E-Bell 07.01.10 at 1:04 pm

Wow. Plaintiff had $75k in past medicals and $25k in lost wages and he gets over a million dollars? Even his attorney sounded shocked by the verdict.

3 Eric T 07.01.10 at 1:10 pm

Plaintiff had $75k in past medicals and $25k in lost wages and he gets over a million dollars?

The medicals are unrelated to pain and suffering. An amputated leg or enucleated eye, for example, might have much smaller medical bills than many smaller injuries that need prolonged hospitilization or numerous surgeries.

As to why this particular claimant got a million dollar verdict, the article doesn’t say. But Oklohoma isn’t exactly a liberal bastion. Perhaps the jury did the right thing, and that is why the lawyer was surprised?

4 Commentor 07.01.10 at 10:22 pm

A state’s overall political leanings do not necessarily mean anything. Mississippi is a conservative state politically, as is Texas, and those states have traditionally been the home of some of the so-called “Judicial Hellholes.” It is the county and judge rather than the states that matter.

5 Doug 07.02.10 at 12:30 am

OTH, (I went to TU School of Law in Tulsa), and was taught about World Wide Volkswagen v. Woodson. http://carver.law.cuny.edu/materials/civpro_materials/vw_background.html, as are most 1year law students. As I recall, my civ pro professor regaled us with tales of this case keeping several generation of lawyers employed. In fact, the case started in 1976 and lasted well into the 1990′s. I am unsure when it ended. So, perhaps something unusual happened in the case, maybe it will be appealed.

6 Bill Poser 07.02.10 at 12:56 am

From the report it isn’t clear why it is relevant that the bicycle had been motorized. As I understand it, a bracket failed and came in contact with the front wheel. That could happen with a non-motorized bicycle, and would have similar consequences, namely throwing the rider forwards, whether the bicycle was pedal-powered or motorized. So, while I would be sympathetic to the manufacturer if the problem resulted from motorization, for which it was not responsible, it is unclear whether that was in fact the case.

7 Jim Collins 07.02.10 at 5:28 am

Bill,

Putting the motor on the bicycle could have subjected the frame to loads and stresses that it wasn’t designed for, leading to the failure of the bracket.

8 Neither attorney nor engineer 07.02.10 at 7:13 am

Adding to Jim Collins’ comment – few attorneys (and fewer people in general) have a good understanding of engineering.

The company was sued for a “bad” design, but did not take part in a significant design change. If adding the engine led to the failure I hope the ruling is overturned.

9 Eric T. 07.02.10 at 8:03 am

Putting the motor on the bicycle could have subjected the frame to loads and stresses that it wasn’t designed for, leading to the failure of the bracket.

A bicycle motor would be virtually insignificant, weight-wise, compared to an adult human for which a bike would be designed.

And the motor wouldn’t be driving the front wheel, but the back one. The front wheel has no chain.

So I think it’s fair to say that the article is missing more than a few critical details. Which is why drawing conclusions about trials from snippets read in the press is often a big problem.

10 Frank 07.02.10 at 8:25 am

“A bicycle motor would be virtually insignificant, weight-wise, compared to an adult human for which a bike would be designed.”

Sure – if it was mounted on the seat.

“”And the motor wouldn’t be driving the front wheel, but the back one. The front wheel has no chain.”

And this is known how? back in the ’60s, there was a French made (I seem to recollect) bicycle with front fender mounted engine that drove the front wheel via an idler wheel.

As to the commenter who opined “Perhaps the jury did the right thing,” it doesn’t seem likely in this case. The injuries seem relatively minor as reported (i broke shoulder and wrist in a skateboard crash at maybe 20mph – oh yeah that was pretty bad – but not a million bucks bad) and unless the plaintiff was a bottom rung wage earner he plainly was not disabled by this injury for too very long.

11 gitarcarver 07.02.10 at 2:45 pm

There is more information on this case here: http://www.morelaw.com/verdicts/case.asp?n=4:08-cv-00486-GKF-FHM&s=OK&d=44107

Here’s what appears to have happened: The plaintiff bought a bike from Pacific Cycle and then retro-fitted it with a small, 48 cc motor he bought from Wonderful Creations on eBay.

The motor mounts in the “vee” of the bike frame and also has the ability to have a small generator attached to it to power a lighting system that mounts on the fenders.

The plaintiff had to removed the fender to put on the light kit. (The light kit is the only thing that I can find that Wonderful Creations sells that mounts on a fender / fender bracket.) The motor adds more vibration and stress to the frame of the bike and if the fender is not mounted and tightened correctly, that vibration can be transmitted to the fender bracket causing metal fatigue failure on the bracket holding the fender and the added light.

Or the bracket could have been designed not to hold the weight of the fender, much less the fender and light plus the vibration from the motor.

12 Mark Biggar 07.04.10 at 10:39 am

Just watch, even if the defendant can successfully argue that the modifications to the bike were the proximate cause to the failure, the suit can always be modified to add “Failure to Warn”.

13 Pool Manager 07.07.10 at 6:14 am

I think the information below, about the careless way Pacfic Cycle does business, from the Morelaw link, explains why the jury may have been angry and awarded so much money for pain and suffering:

The Plaintiffs also presented evidence that Pacific Cycle imports over a million bicycles a year in the U.S. from manufacturing plants in Taiwan and China, making them the largest importers of bicycles into the U.S. The Plaintiffs presented evidence that Pacific Cycle had no independent engineering or testing departments to check the safety and quality of their bikes. Testimony was that the bike frame and fork was manufactured by a plant in China, which Pacific Cycle claimed did safety testing and quality control, but Pacific Cycle was unable to present any documentation to support that claim. The fender and fender bracket were manufactured by a different vendor also in China, but Pacific Cycle was unable to even identify the specific vendor who had manufactured the fender and fender bracket, and thus, was unable to present any documentation showing that there was any safety testing or quality control done with regard to the manufacturing of the fender bracket. Evidence was also presented by the Plaintiffs that although Pacific Cycle imports approximately 200 different models of bikes into the U.S. market, they have one generic manual, which is placed in the box in the Chinese and Taiwan plants, and that manual showed two L brackets in the fender diagram, as opposed to a
single bracket, which was on the bike the Plaintiff was riding, and that
the manual contained no information regarding assembling or tightening of the fender stays on the bike, which the Pacific Cycle expert, David Mitchell, claimed may have not been properly tightened by the Plaintiff when he put the fender on the bike after receiving it from Wonderful Creations, and may have contributed to the accident.

14 John 07.07.10 at 1:15 pm

I own and commute with a motorized bicycle. To date I have amassed 1500 miles. I installed the engine myself and keep it maintained by inspections after every ride.
I took my fenders off because they’re not designed for the vibration the motor creates. It’s not the weight of the motor that attributes to the brackets failing it’s the continuous VIBRATION. I know this from experience the first bike I had a motor on had the fenders and the rear one broke off from the continuous vibration and hit me in the back. I removed the twisted thing and put it in my backpack and went on.
I feel this ruling was wrong and hope it is overturned.

15 Jackie Chiles 07.07.10 at 7:21 pm

Pool Manager – According to your “explanation,” the jury’s decision was the product of emotion and prejudice, impermissibly awarded punitive damages and should be reversed.

16 kat 07.09.10 at 11:10 am

From a completely uninformed viewpoint, the argument regarding additional vibrations seems to make sense. However, would the additional vibration had that significant effect within a week? Not arguing-just trying to understand the forces involved.

17 Jim Collins 07.09.10 at 12:42 pm

kat,

Take a wire coat hangar and try to pull it apart. You can’t. Now take the same wire coat hangar and bend it back and forth quickly at one point. After just a few minutes you will break the coat hangar. It could have been the same way with the fender.

Another failure point is the fasteners that hold the fenders in place. Fasteners can become loose due to repeated vibration. Usually a mechanical device (lockwasher, self-locking nut) or a thread locking compound is used to prevent this. If during the installation of the light, a mechanical device wasn’t put back or if there was thread locking compound that wasn’t replaced, this could have lead to the failure.

I am curious about one thing. What was his speed at the time of incident? Could excessive speed have influenced the severity of his injuries?

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