By Susan Lasser, J.D.
A bicycle rider who alleged that the bicycle helmet she was wearing when she was severely injured during a biking accident failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that there was negligence on the part of the helmet manufacturer in failing to adequately warn as to the proper use of the helmet model she was wearing and that this negligence was a proximate cause of her injuries, a federal jury in Georgia determined, finding in favor of the helmet maker (Walker v. Bell Sports, Inc., September 28, 2018).
On May 20, 2012, the bicycle rider was riding in the cycling portion of an amateur triathlon event in Buford, Gwinnett County, Georgia. At the time, she was wearing a "Giro Skyla"-branded bicycle helmet, designed, manufactured, inspected, distributed, sold, and placed in the stream of commerce by Bell Sports, Inc. While riding on the course path, she suddenly lost control of the bicycle and fell to the pavement, striking and severely injuring the left side of her body and the lower left occipital-parietal area on the back of her head, which was covered by the helmet.
According to her complaint, the rider sustained a severe closed head injury which included pneumocephalus, intracerebral contusions and hemorrhages, subdural hematomas, facial and sinus fractures, blunt chest trauma with pulmonary contusion, left pneumothorax fracture, multiple rib fractures, and left clavicle fracture. As to her skull and brain injuries, she sustained many areas of hemorrhage, including hemorrhage within the left medial temporal lobe. The injuries have resulted in certain "cognitive deficits," including memory losses. The rider has undergone a number of medical procedures at a cost to her and her husband of over $705,000.00 in medical bills to date.
The bicycle rider and her husband filed suit against Bell, alleging that the company’s helmet failed to provide adequate and reasonable protection to the rider’s head and brain in a reasonably foreseeable impact occurrence. They claimed that when they bought the helmet as new, it lacked adequate warnings regarding the limitation and hazards associated with the helmet, as well as adequate information and/or instructions as to its proper use. They maintained that the helmet at issue had not been substantially modified from its original condition before the accident and that the rider was using it in a manner consistent with the warnings, instructions, and information provided by the manufacturer. The complaint alleged one count against Bell for negligence, asserting that as a product designer, manufacturer, distributor and seller of products placed into the stream of commerce, Bell (and its agents/employees) had duties to exercise reasonable care in designing, manufacturing, testing, inspecting, distributing and selling its bicycle helmets, including the one at issue, such that the product was reasonably safe for its intended and foreseeable use of head protection for riders while riding or falling from a bicycle, and was free from warning defects.
Negligence. The rider alleged that Bell breached its duties of care by failing to provide the bicycle rider with proper and necessary warnings or other information about the limitations and hazards of the helmet when put to its intended use so as to allow her to make a fully informed purchase decision and/or decision to continue to utilize the helmet while riding a bicycle. She also asserted that the manufacturer failed to provide her, and other purchasers of the Giro Skyla helmet, with proper and necessary warnings, instructions, or other information that would adequately inform and warn users regarding proper use of the helmet. She said that any instruction, warning, or label provided by Bell was inadequate to apprise the rider of the proper use of the helmet at issue, as well as dangers and limitations associated with the subject helmet.
Further, she asserted that as a proximate consequence and cause of the maker’s failure to provide the rider with proper warnings, instructions, and/or other information, she suffered injuries and damages for which she claimed Bell should be liable to her and her husband. Her husband had alleged loss of consortium proximately caused by his wife’s injuries which, in turn, had been proximately caused by the failures of, and defects in, the helmet.
Jury findings. The first question to the jury was whether it found that the plaintiffs proved by a preponderance of the evidence that Bell was negligent in failing to adequately warn as to the proper use of the Giro Skyla helmet and that this negligence was a proximate cause of the plaintiffs’ injuries. The jury answered in the negative, thereby completing its deliberations, and rendering a verdict for the manufacturer.
The case is No. 1:17-CV-1483-RWS.
Attorneys: Cale Howard Conley (Conley Griggs Partin LLP) for Kirsten M. Walker and Rodney L. Walker. Benjamine Reid (Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, P.A.) for Bell Sports, Inc.
Companies: Bell Sports, Inc.
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