Bike falls from car rack onto highway, causing accident that injures motorist

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Case in Point

October 12, 2010

Bike falls from car rack onto highway, causing accident that injures motorist 

The plaintiffs alleged strict liability design defect and negligent design against the manufacturer of the bike rack, which lacked an adequate retention system. They also claimed that the driver from whose vehicle the bike was ejected failed to properly secure the bike on the rack. The parties settled for $1.5 million during mediation. Doe* v. Yakima Prods., Inc.

Doe, 34, was driving on the highway when a bicycle fell from a Yakima SuperJoe bike rack on the vehicle in front of her. Doe steered onto the road’s shoulder to avoid the bike. As she returned to the road, her car slid into the center lane, where a truck struck it on the passenger side.

Doe suffered a subarachnoid hemorrhage; a collapsed left lung; a comminuted fracture to the left femur; fractures to her face, nose, scapula, and left third rib; and cuts and abrasions to her face and body. She also suffered posttraumatic stress disorder. She now has restricted range of motion in her left leg, pain in her knee, and significant weakness in her thigh muscles, all of which has affected her ability to exercise and engage in other physical activities.

Doe’s past medical expenses totaled $245,000, and her future medical expenses are estimated at $67,000. She returned to her job as a bank executive several months after the incident, after incurring about $26,000 in lost earnings.

Doe sued Yakima Products, Inc., the manufacturer of the bike rack, alleging strict liability design defect and negligent design in that the cradle-and-rubber-strap retention system used to secure the bike to the rack was inadequate. The system consists of a plastic cradle with tabs attached and rubber straps with holes. The rubber straps are stretched over the bike’s frame in several places, including under the seat and at the handlebars, and the tabs are threaded through the holes to secure the bike to the cradle. The plaintiff’s expert testified that the rack lacked a positive retention system, such as a locking ratchet strap or other device that would require some affirmative act by the user to lock the strap mechanism into place. Evidence showed that other manufacturers used a locking ratchet strip, and Yakima used it on other products.

The plaintiff also presented expert testimony that the cradle was too small to contain the bike and that the system’s design made it difficult for a user to determine—after loading a bike—whether the rubber straps were properly secured. The plaintiff discovered evidence of 120 other incidents of bikes being ejected from Yakima racks that used a similar cradle-strap design.

Finally, the plaintiff’s expert testified that the rack was defective in that it lacked a safety strap or similar device to ensure that the bike would stay on the rack if the rubber straps failed.

Suit against William Gordon, the driver from whose vehicle the bike was ejected, alleged he failed to properly secure the bike on the rack.

The defendants argued that Doe was negligent in speeding and failing to keep a proper lookout. Yakima also argued that Gordon failed to properly secure the bike.

The parties settled for $1.5 million during mediation. Gordon provided the $50,000 limits of his insurance policy, and Yakima contributed the rest.

Citation: Doe v. Yakima Prods., Inc., No. 09L103 (Ill., Lake Co. Cir. Sept. 8, 2010).

Plaintiff counsel: AAJ member Robert L. Jaskulski, Milwaukee.

Plaintiff experts: Dennis Skogen, mechanical engineering, Madison, Wisconsin; Stan Johnson, product design and safety, Brookfield, Wisconsin; Carole Vetter, orthopedic surgery, and Sara Swanson, neuropsychology, both of Milwaukee; and Ari Kaz, orthopedic surgery, Racine, Wisconsin.

Defense experts: John Sprague, mechanical engineering, Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Christopher Grote, neuropsychology, Chicago.

*Name removed by plaintiff's request.


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