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Defective Harley-Davidson motorcycle - Recall on bolt holding upper brake mounting - Motorcycle strikes guardrail - Liability only.

Montgomery County

This products liability action was brought in strict liability against the defendant Harley-Davidson, Inc., after the plaintiff crashed his Harley-Davidson Sportster into a guardrail. A female passenger on the plaintiff’s motorcycle also claimed to have sustained personal injuries in the accident. The plaintiffs alleged that the accident resulted from a defective bolt which broke off and caught in the front wheel spokes of the motorcycle.

The male plaintiff sustained multiple leg fractures in the collision and the female plaintiff suffered a traumatic toe amputation. The defendant admitted that the bolt in question was defective and was part of a manufacturer’s recall. The defense p 7 3 disputed that the accident occurred as alleged by the plaintiffs and contended that the male plaintiff’s ability to control the motorcycle at the time of the collision was significantly impaired by the consumption of alcohol. The case was bifurcated and tried on liability only.

Two bolt manufacturers were dismissed from the case prior to trial and the defendant Harley-Davidson assumed the defense of several dealerships which sold the motorcycle and/or performed maintenance on it.

The bolt which holds the upper brake mounting to the front wheel of the Harley-Davidson Sportster motorcycle manufactured by the defendant and owned by the plaintiff was the subject of a manufacturer’s recall after it was discovered that the metal used for the part was corrosive and prone to stress fractures. The plaintiffs contended that the bolt broke and interfered with the front wheel spokes of the motorcycle, causing the plaintiffs to crash into the guardrail.

The defendant’s expert accident reconstructionist testified that the damage to the front wheel spokes of the plaintiff’s motorcycle was minor and was not consistent with the plaintiff’s theory of how the accident occurred. This expert opined that the fracture of the bolt in question occurred after the accident and did not interfere with the plaintiff’s operation of the motorcycle. The defendant’s toxicologist testified that the plaintiff operator’s blood alcohol level of .14 shortly after the accident indicated that his ability to operate the motorcycle was significantly impaired at the time of the collision.

The jury found that the defect was not a substantial factor in causing the plaintiffs’ injuries. The case is currently on appeal. The Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association has filed an Amicus Curie brief supporting the plaintiffs’ position that the issue of contributory negligence (such as the plaintiff’s intoxication) should not have been admissible in a strict liability action.

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