By Susan Engstrom
A Georgia jury has awarded $12.5 million in compensatory damages to an injured motorcycle driver and his wife in their action against manufacturers Suzuki Motor Corporation and Suzuki Motor of America, Inc., finding that the plaintiffs had proven their design defect claims with respect to the motorcycle’s front brakes. No punitive damages were awarded (Johns v. Suzuki Motor Corp., No. 14-SV-00043, February 21, 2018).
According to the plaintiffs’ brief, as contained in the consolidated pre-trial order, the driver was driving his 2006 Suzuki GSX-R1000 motorcycle to work one morning when he attempted to slow down to avoid a slow-moving or stopped tractor-trailer ahead of him. When he applied his front brakes, however, the bike failed to slow down. To avoid both the tractor-trailer and oncoming traffic, he swerved to the right, but while attempting to straighten the bike up after that maneuver, he lost control and crashed violently. As a result of the crash, he sustained permanent injuries to his neck, spine, and left hand. After he was released from the hospital, he received a recall notice from Suzuki stating that "corrosion of the brake piston … generates gas … [that] can affect braking power by reducing proper fluid pressure transmission to the front brake" and, as a result, "stopping distances may be extended, increasing the risk of a crash."
The driver asserted that the crash was caused by a defective condition of the front brake master cylinder on his motorcycle and that Suzuki knew, or should have known, of this defect for at least six months prior to the crash. He also alleged that Suzuki conducted the recall negligently, choosing to delay it "so as not to interfere with their profitable spring and summer selling season." He asserted causes of action for strict products liability and negligent failure to warn, among others.
Verdict. After finding that the driver and his wife had proven their design defect, negligent recall, and continuing-duty-to-warn claims by a preponderance of evidence, the jury awarded the driver $10.5 million in compensatory damages. The jury then determined that the driver was 49 percent at fault for his injuries, that Suzuki Motor Corporation was 45 percent at fault, and that Suzuki Motor of America, Inc. 6 percent at fault. The jury also awarded $2 million in compensatory damages to the wife for loss of consortium. No punitive damages were awarded, as the jury did not find that the companies acted with willful misconduct, malice, fraud, oppression, wantonness, or an entire want of care that would raise a presumption of conscious indifference to the consequences of their actions.
The case is No. 14-SV-00043.
Attorneys: Randy Edwards (Cochran & Edwards, LLC) for Adrian and Gwen Johns. Randall R. Riggs (Frost Brown Todd, LLC) for Suzuki Motor of America Inc. and Suzuki Motor Corp.
Companies: Suzuki Motor of America Inc.; Suzuki Motor Corp.
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