By Georgia D. Koutouzos, J.D.
The injured man failed to establish that the bicycle was unreasonably dangerous, defectively designed, or that the manufacturer’s warnings had been inadequately communicated.
A Louisiana trial court did not err in granting summary judgment favoring a bicycle manufacturer in a product liability action by an individual who sustained serious personal injuries while riding a used racing bike that lacked an original component designed to keep the front wheel from disengaging, an appellate panel in that state determined. In so ruling, the panel rejected the injured man’s assertion that the issue of whether the safety component had been present when the original owner acquired the bicycle new from the manufacturer remained in dispute (Delahoussaye v. Boelter, November 15, 2019, Theriot, M.).
While riding a racing bicycle in his neighborhood, a man attempted to clear a gap in the concrete by executing a maneuver where both wheels of the bike temporarily were lifted off the ground. As the bicycle came back into contact with the pavement, its front tire disconnected, pushing the forks of that wheel into the ground and propelling the man over the handlebars and onto the pavement. As a result, he suffered a fractured skull and a broken neck.
After the accident, it was determined that the bike—a 2008 Tarmac Expert racing bicycle manufactured by Specialized Bicycle Components, Inc. (Specialized) that the injured man had purchased in an online auction from a private seller who previously had acquired it from the original owner—was missing a secondary retention device to keep the front wheel from disengaging if the quick release (a mechanism that utilizes a cam lever action and an adjusting nut to clamp the front wheel into place between the two front fork dropouts) is incorrectly adjusted. The bike also was missing its original warning labels.
The injured man filed suit against Specialized and the online seller from whom he had purchased the bicycle, alleging that it was defective and unreasonably dangerous in design, construction, composition, and manufacture, as well as inadequate in its instructions and/or warnings in violation of the Louisiana Products Liability Act (LPLA) and other applicable provisions of Louisiana law. He also alleged that the online seller had removed or destroyed the bicycle’s secondary retention device before having posted the bike for sale. Specialized’s liability insurer subsequently was added to the lawsuit as a defendant.
Trial court’s opinion. The manufacturer and its insurer moved for summary judgment on all claims and the trial court granted those motions, finding that the only significant query remaining was whether the at-issue bike was unreasonably dangerous. Noting that the only material deviation from the manufacturer’s performance standards for the bicycle was the lack of a secondary retention device at the time of the accident, the trial court further found that although the bike did not have the secondary retention device at the time of the accident, Specialized provided ample evidence showing that the secondary retention device had been removed by someone other than the company after the bike had left the manufacturer’s control. Thus, the trial court found that in order to defeat the manufacturer’s motion for summary judgment, the injured man had to offer evidence establishing a genuine issue of fact as to whether his bicycle was unreasonably dangerous in design even though it had been equipped with a secondary retention device.
In that regard, the trial court determined that the injured man failed to produce evidence to suggest that a bicycle with a quick release mechanism coupled with a secondary retention device is unreasonably dangerous or defective in design. Moreover, the manufacturer’s uncontradicted evidence established that adequate warnings had been included with the bike (via an owner’s handbook and a manual) and on the bike (via bright yellow warning labels affixed to the bicycle’s seat tube and one of the bicycle’s front forks) when the bike left the manufacturer’s control. The injured man appealed the decision, arguing that the trial court erred in concluding that he had failed to establish a genuine dispute of material fact concerning the bicycle’s manufacture, design, and warnings.
Manufacturing defect. According to the appellant, the issue of whether the secondary retention device was present when the original owner acquired the bicycle new from Specialized remained in dispute. Based upon the testimony of its experts at trial, however, the manufacturer established that the secondary retention device had not been filed off or removed at the time that the bicycle left the company’s control. Indeed, photographs of the at-issue bicycle showed that the secondary retention device was not merely missing but had been removed, as was clear from the color change between the portion of the front fork dropout where the missing secondary retention tab should have been located and the rest of the front fork dropout.
Because the injured man failed to produce factual support sufficient to rebut Specialized’s showing that the bike was not unreasonably dangerous in construction or composition at the time it left the company’s control, the trial court correctly granted summary judgment favoring the manufacturer on the issue. Furthermore, because there was no genuine issue as to any material fact regarding whether the alleged defect existed when the bicycle left the manufacturer’s control, that assignment of error also lacked merit.
Design defect. Summary judgment favoring the manufacturer also was correctly granted on the appellant’s contention that there was an inherent defect in the bike’s quick release system in that its design made it difficult for a user to determine whether the front wheel was properly fastened. In that regard, the trial court held that neither the affidavit of the injured man’s expert nor any of the expert’s supporting documents suggested that a bicycle with a quick release mechanism coupled with a secondary retention device was unreasonably dangerous or defective in design. Rather, the evidence established that the bike was not unreasonably or dangerously designed because it could be safely used when the instructions provided in the manufacturer’s manual were followed.
Failure to warn. While the appellant did not dispute the existence of manufacturer warnings in the handbook accompanying the 2008 Tarmac Expert bicycle or on bright yellow stickers placed on all new bicycles, he argued that the method by which Specialized had communicated its warnings was inadequate. However, it was undisputed that when the bike left the manufacturer’s control, multiple handbooks were packaged with the bicycle and two warning labels were attached to the bicycle. Thus, because the injured man did not dispute that those warnings left the manufacturer with the bike, he could not succeed in his claim that the warnings were inadequate under the LPLA. Consequently, the trial court’s grant of summary judgment favoring Specialized and its insurer was affirmed.
The case is No. 2019 CA 0026.
Attorneys: J. Neale deGravelles (deGravelles & Palmintier) for Arthur Delahoussaye. Robert E. Kerrigan, Jr. (Deutsch Kerrigan LLP) and Jason P. Foote (Law Offices of Jason P. Foote) for Specialized Bicycle Components, Inc. and National Union Fire Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh, PA.
Companies: Specialized Bicycle Components, Inc.; National Union Fire Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh, PA; Spokesman Professional Bicycle Works, L.L.C.; ABC Insurance Co.; DEF Insurance Co.; GHI Insurance Co.
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