How not to respond to a product liability claim or How to turn a mess into a legal disaster.

Isn’t here an old saying about dirty laundry in public, or in this case showing the world that your product failed, you don’t know why and it wasn’t your fault…?

The list of smart-a$$ titles for this piece is long but I figure I better stop and let you know what I mean.

An editor of Velo News was bicycle racing riding on a set of Mavic wheels. Basically the wheel broke and so did he when he hit the ground. He wrote an article about the story. See A shattering experience – A post-recall, R-Sys wheel failure. The wheel had been recalled earlier, but this was a post recall, or fixed wheel. The injured editor did the right thing and called Mavic who inspected the wheel. Mavic decided the failure of the wheel was due to rider error. He hit something.

This was after Mavic sent five people to look at the wheel. It is not know whether Mavic investigated the area where the crash occurred.

Mavic‘s analysis did not match what the editor thought happened. And being a journalist he investigated. He contacted everyone he could, then contacted everyone they knew and kept going until he had a good idea from third party accounts of what happened. He did not hit anything. The wheel failed.

So he did what anyone who is angry and has the ability does, he wrote about it. Mavic‘s response he felt was wrong.

At this point the lesson in how not to handle a disaster starts.

Mavic then filed a response. Velo News published the response. At this point in time we can start tracking the Public Relations nightmares that Mavic created. And as I have said numerous times before, the marketing department makes statements the legal department has to clean up.

  1. Mavic did not look at or ignored the area where the accident occurred when the decided it was something in the street that caused the wheel to destruct.
  2. Blaming the rider or the owner of the product for a product failure creates a three year old battle.
    1. The battle will go on for three years
    2. The battle will look like three year olds are doing it.
      1. Yes you did
      2. No I did not
      3. Yes you did
      4. No I did not

Mavic‘s response was to Velo News, not the injured editor. In the response Mavic back peddled and said the cause of the accident had not yet been determined.

  1. Once you are in the s$$t it is stupid to say you are not in the sewer. Even worse to say when you are covered in s$$t that you were never in the sewer.
  2. Being nice when you smell like s$$t helps, but you still smell like s$$t.

You got a problem, deal with the problem. Blaming someone else for your problem never works and makes you look stupid in the eyes of the world and any jury. Mavic thought the problem was a possible lawsuit from an injured rider. That would have cost them money. However creating a situation where the problem is brought out in public and you are made to look like a liar is going to kill sales. I suspect the lawsuit might have had less of an effect on Mavic‘s bottom line.

  1. Velo News was not injured in the disaster, why are you writing letters to Velo News.

The inured party here who deserves the response is the editor. Writing to Velo News to say we are not wrong, we may not have been right, is not the way to deal with this. If you are worried about the problem deal with the problem. If you are worried about bad press, don’t be an idiot to begin with. Write a letter to the injured rider. Remember that second head line, dirty laundry.

  1. Dealing with the press about someone’s personal problem rather than dealing with them is proof that you are hiding something.

Too many times the PR or marketing department starts to deal with a problem then it gets shifted to the legal or risk management department and no matter what the company looks like it has a split personality and looks bad.

Worse there is not legal department and those charged with risk management and usually some other full time consuming job gets scared and speculates on what to do.

Get together. Allow the PR or marketing department to be the front face that is what they are good at. Let legal or risk management review but don’t allow fear of litigation to control any response to anything. And never allow the fear of being sued to put you in a position where you look like you lied.

  1. If you don’t know what happened, never speculate, never guess, be honest and say you don’t know.
  2. Never blame anyone else if you don’t know. You become a liar when it comes out that you were wrong.

A summary is the writer made most private investigators look lime and got statements from everyone around that said the wheel failed, it did not hit, drop or roll into something. Mavic tried to cover their butt without using its head. The result, writer has a broken bone, bad wheels and Mavic looks bad. The first two things you expect as a cyclist, broken wheels and broken bones, the last is sad.

I suspect that this fight will continue, see 2a and 2b above. That is good for me, I get to write more. That is bad for the industry. It will become a disaster for Mavic.

For more about this mess see: Mavic announces R-SYS recall, A shattering experience – A post-recall, R-Sys wheel failure, and Mavic responds to wheel collapse article.

3 Comments on “How not to respond to a product liability claim or How to turn a mess into a legal disaster.”

  1. Craig Calfee says:

    As an expert witness in carbon failure cases, I get paid to look for flaws. (there were 9 typos) In this case, there may be no flaws in the wheel construction but a serious design flaw. It appears that the rider overloaded and broke one or two spokes (in compression) in that dip in the corner. Then the wheel failed catastrophically, with no help from the Kevlar. This falls under the category of a design flaw – injurious failure mode.

    I like Mavic, too – but this wheel design – and Mavic's response to this failure, was a disaster.


  2. Anonymous says:

    Hello Professor Moss. I think I'm the only one who calls you that? 🙂

    How did Mavic come to conclusion it was the rider's error? Couldn't they have consulted with their engineer/designer and see what kind of conclusion they came up with?

    Bad Press = Going Out Of Business (well, maybe)



  3. Anonymous says:

    Good points all. I have no idea if Mavic was first contacted directly and how much time they were given to respond, or what their response to the rider (writer) was.

    In any case after the article was published, Mavic was right in sending folks to review the circumstances, and would have been smart to say that they were surprised by the failure and were fully investigating, and without seeming like a bunch of A-holes they could have talked about the positive things they did, and will do to make sure this was and remains an isolated case.

    One thing Mavic failed to consider is that no matter how perfect their products are (or Mavic thinks they are, compost happens and any wheel can fail at any time for any reason. Therefore, it's possible to admit to a failure (and take blame for such) without conceding a systemic problem.

    As you point out, their response only made them look worse yet.


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