Lawsuit because a ski helmet failed to protect a plaintiff from concussion.

Is this, the beginning of an avalanche of lawsuits for concussions from people wearing helmets?

Rogers v. K2 Sports, LLC, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEIS 217233

State: Wisconsin: United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin

Plaintiff: Steven Scott Rogers, by his guardian, Tracy Rogers, Tracy Rogers, Samba Health Benefit Plan, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wisconsin, and State of Wisconsin Department of Health Services

Defendant: K2 Sports, LLC, Lexington Insurance Company, and AIG Europe Limited

Plaintiff Claims: negligence, strict product liability, and breach of warranty

Defendant Defenses:

Holding: Mostly for the Plaintiff

Year: 2018

Summary

This appears to be the first lawsuit over a ski helmet not protecting the skier from a brain injury. This is just a motion hearing. However, it provides some insight into the claims and defenses that will spring up in the future if people continue to believe that human-powered recreation helmets are going to protect against concussions and fatal head injuries.

Facts

Scott wore a K2 Phase 08 helmet while skiing with his stepson Coby at the Afton Alps Ski Area in Washington County, Minnesota, on New Year’s Eve 2015. Around 8:40 p.m., Scott and Coby skied down a beginner’s run called Nancy’s Nursery. Scott fell about halfway down the hill near some small mounds called “rollers.” Coby was in front of Scott and did not witness the fall. Another skier did witness the fall, but he was not able to recall any details about it, except that the fall did not seem unusual.

The fall left Scott unconscious and bleeding from his left ear. Scott was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where doctors conducted tests including a CT scan of Scott’s head. The accident caused brain hemorrhages and fractured Scott’s skull, left clavicle, and numerous ribs along Scott’s left side. As a result of permanent brain damage caused by the accident, Scott now lives at a VA hospital where he receives round-the-clock care.

The K2 helmet was certified as compliant with the standards of ASTM International, which is an organization that develops and [*4] publishes technical standards for a wide range of products.2 Compliance with ASTM standards is voluntary. The K2 helmet has three layers. The exterior layer is a hard-plastic shell. The shell is lined with an Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) energy-attenuating layer, which is supposed to absorb and dissipate shock from a blow to the head. The third layer is a comfort liner that can be adjusted to fit on the user’s head. After Scott’s accident, the lower left rear of the exterior shell was cracked. And, in the same area, the shock-absorbing EPS layer was flattened, and chunks of the EPS were missing.

Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.

This was a motion’s decision. A Motion for summary judgment was filed by the defendant who was denied and motions to exclude witnesses, expert witness testimony, etc., which were denied in part and granted in part for both parties.

The main issue is, it is a lawsuit against the manufacturer of a human-powered recreation helmet manufacturer for a concussion.

The motions covered a broad range of topics; this discussion will look at the important points from an outdoor recreation perspective.

The court started by looking at the Wisconsin Product Liability statute.

Wisconsin product liability law is codified under Wisconsin Statute § 895.047.5 A product liability claim has five elements: (1) the product was defective; (2) the defect rendered the product unreasonably dangerous; (3) the defect existed when the product left the control of the manufacturer; (4) the product reached the consumer without substantial change; and (5) the defect caused the claimant’s damages.

The substantial change requirement is interesting. That reasoning provides a defense for the manufacturer if the retailer makes modifications to the helmet for a sale. At the same time, it is how all people in the chain of custody of a product are held liable for a product liability claim. Any of the people in the chain of custody, manufacture, distributor, retailers could have identified the defect and prevented the defective product from reaching the consumer.

Generally, product liability claims are one of three types: “design defects, manufacturing defects, and warning defects.”

Design defects are levied when the product is designed badly from the beginning. Although there are a lot of design defect claims, there are rarely judgments based on design because most manufacturers understand safety issues.

One area that does pop up in design defects is when a product is used differently from what it was originally designed. If the manufacturer leans about the misuse of the product, then the manufacturer may be held liable for injuries due to the misuse of the product.

Manufacturing defects are simply a failure of quality control. Although in this day, you would think, manufacturing defects would be rare, they occur constantly. A manufacturing defect is usually the reason for a recall of a product.

The final defect, warning defects, are the easiest and toughest at the same time. Making sure the information on how to use a product and any warnings on how not to use the product are critical. At the same time, it is difficult for manufacture to envision how their product could be used and all the risks from those different uses.

As an example, when I’m design manuals and warnings, I want the product. After I have examined it thoroughly and tried every possible way to use it improperly, I ask someone who has no understanding of the product to use it. A sixteen-year-old kid can do amazing things that no one ever envisioned with some products.

Many times, a product liability lawsuit will include a negligence claim. Here the court compared the issues of proving a product negligence claim and a product liability claim.

Plaintiffs also bring a claim for negligence. To sustain this claim, plaintiffs must prove (1) the existence of a duty of care on the part of the defendant, (2) a breach of that duty of care, (3) a causal connection between the defendant’s breach of the duty of care and the plaintiff’s injury, and (4) actual loss or damage resulting from the injury. In Wisconsin, a manufacturer’s duty of care includes the duty to safely design the product so it is fit for its intended purpose, and the duty to conduct adequate inspections and tests to determine the extent of defects.

The bold issue is another point you rarely know about. Your duty to design is just step one. Step two is you must test your product to make sure that it meets the intended purpose and the limits of your design. You design a product to do something. Once manufactured you must test the product initially and sometimes ongoing to make sure it still does what you say it will within the parameters you say it will operate.

This duty to test is increased if the duty arises from labeling or marketing. If you say the product contains X ounces of Sample or only breaks under loads greater than XX pounds you have to make sure each of your products meets that test.

The issue in ski helmets is not what the manufacturer says it can or cannot do. The issue is what the consumer believes the product will do. The consumer/plaintiff believes the ski helmet is designed to protect against a concussion, where, in reality; the design is just to slightly minimize the injury potential.

In this case, the plaintiff was claiming the helmet was defective. The plaintiff had to prove:

…a product is defective in design if the “foreseeable risks of harm posed by the product could have been reduced or avoided by the adoption of a reasonable alternative design by the manufacturer, and the omission of the alternative design renders the product not reasonably safe.”

The helmet manufacturer, K2 brought up the fact that the helmet met the ASTM standards for ski helmets. That standard required the helmet to “keep the user’s head from accelerating more than 300 g, meaning that the force of impact on the skull is equivalent to 300 times the force of gravity or less.” If you look at that standard, it is minimal.

However, the ASTM helmet is not a 100% defense to a claim. It only shifts the burden to the plaintiff to prove the helmet was defective, more so since all helmet standards are voluntary.

The ASTM standards may be relevant, but they are not dispositive. If the ASTM standards were adopted by federal or state law, then K2 would be entitled to a rebuttable presumption that the helmet was not defective. Wis. Stat. § 895.047(3)(c). But the ASTM standards are only voluntary. Compliance with voluntary standards at the time of manufacturing may be evidence that K2 behaved reasonably, in defense of plaintiffs’ negligence claim.

Voluntary standards, which most standards are identified as, are really only a sword and not a shield. If you don’t meet a standard, then it is proof you don’t care, and you had a cheap product. Failing to meet a standard is better in the plaintiff’s hands to proof you were bad, rather than in the defendant’s hands as a shield.

Under Wisconsin law, the court set forth the issues needed to prove a defect based on inadequate warnings on the product or provided to the consumer.

Under Wisconsin’s product liability statute, a product is defective because of inadequate instructions or warnings if “foreseeable risks of harm posed by the product could have been reduced or avoided by the provision of reasonable instructions or warnings by the manufacturer and the omission of the instructions or warnings renders the product not reasonably safe.” Wis. Stat. § 895.047(1)(a). Plaintiffs do not need to show that Scott actually read the instructions to prove causation. When a product is missing an adequate warning, the missing warning is a substantial factor in causing injury if a reasonable person would have heeded the warning and as a result avoided injury. There is a presumption that any missing instructions would have been read, and therefore a presumption of causation.

Here again, warnings are another weak shield for the defendant and a better sword for the plaintiff in litigation. Warnings show you tried to inform the consumer, or you told the consumer not to do something and they consumer did it anyway. The lack of a warning is a major sword to the plaintiff who can show the jury the lack of care and concern on the part of the manufacturer that should have and could have warned the consumer of the risk.

You can see the difference in the value of some arguments between the plaintiff and the defendant. If the defendant had the warning, it really does not matter except to hope you can argue it was written in a way that the consumer had to have seen it. If the manufacturer fails to have a warning, then the presumption is the consumer would have read the warning and not been hurt. But for the failure to have a warning, there would be no injury. If you are a manufacturer believing that since you have met the standards you are safe, you are soon to be renamed “Defendant.”

Even the voluntary part of the term “voluntary standard” can come back to haunt a manufacturer. If the manufacturer decides not to meet the standard, it is easy for the plaintiff’s attorney to argue the manufacturer did not meet the standard to save money, or because they did not care about their customers. Consequently, once a standard is created, voluntary or not, every manufacturer must meet the standard.

Worse, any standard then restricts research and development because of the fear of not meeting the standard and looking bad in court.

The motion did not look at the issues, we would like some clarification or the facts. What happened to cause the head injury that turned the plaintiff into a vegetable and more importantly, what did the plaintiff believe when they purchased the helmet.

So Now What?

The decision had a few interesting points. However, the greatest issue is the floodgates are now probably open for head injuries that occur to skiers and other recreationists while wearing a helmet. It will be interesting to see how this decision progresses through the courts and whether the issues of the amount of protections afforded versus the expectations of the consumer becomes an issue.

As the decision states. Ski helmets have limited ability to protect. The ASTM standard quoted in the decision requires the helmet to meet a simple test.

Under the ASTM standards, a helmet must keep the user’s head from accelerating more than 300 g, meaning that the force of impact on the skull is equivalent to 300 times the force of gravity or less.

Human-powered recreation helmets, ski, bike, rollerblading, scooters, etc., only protect against minor scalp injuries, nothing more. If the NFL cannot protect football players with helmets costing thousands of dollars why to you think the piece of plastic you paid $100 is going to protect you from a concussion.

More articles about helmets

A helmet manufacture understands the issues (Uvex, Mouthguards)    http://rec-law.us/xpxX6n

A new idea that makes sense in helmets: the Bern Hard Hat    http://rec-law.us/yPerOd

Are we using safety as an excuse not to spend time with people? Is here, “wear your helmet” taking the place of let me show you how to ride a bike?    http://rec-law.us/1fqwlpV

Do you really want to sell helmets this way? Does this article promote the industry?    http://rec-law.us/NfoMTs

Does being safe make us stupid? Studies say yes.    http://rec-law.us/Ao5BBD

Great article on why helmet laws are stupid    http://rec-law.us/zeOaNH

Great editorial questioning why we need laws to “protect” us from ourselves.    http://rec-law.us/Ayswbo

Helmets do not increase risk of a neck injury when skiing    http://rec-law.us/wPOUiM

Helmets: why cycling, skiing, skateboarding helmets don’t work    http://rec-law.us/RVsgkV

Law requires helmets, injuries down fatalities up?    http://rec-law.us/YwLcea

Mixed emotions, but a lot of I told you so.    http://rec-law.us/ysnWY2

More information over the debate about ski helmets: Ski Helmets ineffective crashes were the wear is going faster than 12 miles per hour    http://rec-law.us/z4CLkE

The helmet issue is so contentious people will say the stupidest things    http://rec-law.us/zhare9

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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helmet, summary judgment, testing, injuries, plaintiffs’, ASTM, instructions, contends, expert testimony, warning, ski, drop, product liability, move to strike, design defect, manufacturing, time of an accident, measured, opined, centimeters, parties, loss of consortium, admissibility, inadmissible, speculation, simulation, chinstrap, requires, warranty, exposed


Rogers v. K2 Sports, LLC, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 217233

 Rogers v. K2 Sports, LLC, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 217233

United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin

December 28, 2018, Decided; December 28, 2018, Filed

17-CV-534-JDP

Reporter

2018 U.S. Dist. LEIS 217233 *

STEVEN SCOTT ROGERS, by his guardian, Tracy Rogers, TRACY ROGERS, SAMBA HEALTH BENEFIT PLAN, BLUE CROSS BLUE SHIELD OF WISONSIN, and STATE OF WISCONSIN DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH SERVICES, Plaintiffs, v. K2 SPORTS, LLC, LEXINGTON INSURANCE COMPANY, and AIG EUROPE LIMITED, Defendants.

Core Terms

helmet, summary judgment, testing, injuries, plaintiffs’, ASTM, instructions, contends, expert testimony, warning, ski, drop, product liability, move to strike, design defect, manufacturing, time of an accident, measured, opined, centimeters, parties, loss of consortium, admissibility, inadmissible, speculation, simulation, chinstrap, requires, warranty, exposed

Counsel: [*1] For Steven Scott Rogers, By his Guardian Tracy Rogers, Tracy Rogers, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wisconsin, doing business as Athem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Lexington Insurance Company, Plaintiffs, Counter Claimant, Counter Defendants: Charles M. Bye, Robert A. Parsons, LEAD ATTORNEY, Brian F. Laule, Bye, Goff, & Rohde, Ltd, River Falls, WI.

For Samba Health Benefit Plan, Plaintiff, Cross Claimant: Matthew Robert Falk, LEAD ATTORNEY, Falk Legal Group, Milwaukee, WI.

For State of Wisconsin – Department of Health Services, Involuntary Plaintiff, Plaintiff: Jesus Gabriel Garza, State of Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Madison, WI.

For K2 Sports, LLC, f/k/a K-2 Corporation, Defendant, Cross Defendant: Anne Marie Ellis, Gary A Wolensky, Michael Preciado, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Buchalter Nemer, Irvine, CA; Eric J. Meier, LEAD ATTORNEY, Husch Blackwell, LLP, Milwaukee, WI; Leslie Gutierrez, LEAD ATTORNEY, Milwaukee, WI; Christopher Hossellman, Buchalter, APC, Irvine, CA.

For AIG Europe Limited, Defendant, Cross Defendant: Charles W. Browning, Sara D. Corbello, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Plunkett Cooney, Bloomfield Hills, MI; Eric J. Meier, LEAD ATTORNEY, Husch Blackwell, LLP, Milwaukee, WI.

Judges: JAMES D. PETERSON, [*2] District Judge.

Opinion by: JAMES D. PETERSON

Opinion

OPINION & ORDER

Plaintiff Steven Scott Rogers fell while skiing and suffered a serious brain injury. Scott and his wife, plaintiff Tracy Rogers, contend that Scott’s helmet, made by defendant K2 Sports, was defectively designed and that the defect was a cause of his injury. They have sued K2 for negligence, strict product liability, and breach of warranty. Dkt. 32. Tracy also claims loss of consortium as a result of her husband’s injuries.1 K2 denies that the helmet was defective, contending instead that the helmet was the wrong size and that Scott had not properly fastened it, and that he was injured by direct contact with the ground.

K2 moves for summary judgment on all of plaintiffs’ claims. Dkt. 102. Plaintiffs oppose, and they move to strike defendant’s experts’ opinions that the helmet moved out of position when Scott fell. Dkt. 139.

At the heart of this case is a straightforward dispute about the role of the helmet in Scott’s injury. The court will limit the testimony of K2’s experts about how the injury occurred because some of those opinions are too speculative. But that still leaves genuine disputes about the fit of the helmet and whether it was [*3] properly designed, so K2’s motion for summary judgment will be denied.

UNDISPUTED FACTS

The following facts are undisputed except where noted.

Scott wore a K2 Phase 08 helmet while skiing with his stepson Coby at the Afton Alps Ski Area in Washington County, Minnesota, on New Year’s Eve 2015. Around 8:40 p.m., Scott and Coby skied down a beginner’s run called Nancy’s Nursery. Scott fell about halfway down the hill near some small mounds called “rollers.” Coby was in front of Scott and did not witness the fall. Another skier did witness the fall, but he was not able to recall any details about it, except that the fall did not seem unusual.

The fall left Scott unconscious and bleeding from his left ear. Scott was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where doctors conducted tests including a CT scan of Scott’s head. The accident caused brain hemorrhages and fractured Scott’s skull, left clavicle, and numerous ribs along Scott’s left side. As a result of permanent brain damage caused by the accident, Scott now lives at a VA hospital where he receives round-the-clock care.

The K2 helmet was certified as compliant with the standards of ASTM International, which is an organization that develops and [*4] publishes technical standards for a wide range of products.2 Compliance with ASTM standards is voluntary. The K2 helmet has three layers. The exterior layer is a hard-plastic shell. The shell is lined with an Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) energy-attenuating layer, which is supposed to absorb and dissipate shock from a blow to the head. The third layer is a comfort liner that can be adjusted to fit on the user’s head. After Scott’s accident, the lower left rear of the exterior shell was cracked. And, in the same area, the shock-absorbing EPS layer was flattened, and chunks of the EPS were missing.

The parties sharply dispute what happened to the helmet when Scott fell. K2 contends that the helmet was improperly fit and not properly fastened. K2’s theory is that as Scott fell, his helmet shifted out of place and the left posterior region of his head was exposed and directly hit the ground. Dkt. 144, ¶ 38. K2 contends that the helmet only partially protected Scott’s head, and that the point of impact on the helmet was below the “test line,” which is the lower limit of the area that is supposed to be protected under ASTM standards. K2 also contends that pictures from the [*5] day of the accident show that Scott failed to tighten the helmet’s chinstrap. Id., ¶ 39.

Plaintiffs contend that the helmet did not actually meet ASTM standards. Plaintiffs’ theory is that the bottom rear of the helmet was excessively tapered at the test line. As a result of the tapering, the helmet did not afford sufficient protection against a blow such as the one Scott suffered. Plaintiffs also contend that the helmet was the right size for Scott.

ANALYSIS

K2 moves for summary judgment on the grounds that plaintiffs cannot prove that Scott’s K2 helmet was defective or that it caused Scott’s injuries. In connection with their opposition to K2’s motion, plaintiffs move to strike parts of K2’s expert evidence. The court begins with plaintiffs’ challenge to the expert evidence.

A. Plaintiffs’ motion to exclude expert evidence

Under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 113 S. Ct. 2786, 125 L. Ed. 2d 469 (1993), and Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 147, 119 S. Ct. 1167, 143 L. Ed. 2d 238 (1999), the court must serve as a gatekeeper to ensure that proffered expert testimony meets the requirements of Federal Rule of Evidence 702. Essentially, the gatekeeping function consists of a three-part test: the court must ensure that the expert is qualified, that the expert’s opinions are based on reliable methods and reasoning, and that the expert’s opinions will assist the jury in [*6] deciding a relevant issue. Myers v. Ill. Cent. R. R. Co., 629 F.3d 639, 644 (7th Cir. 2010). The proponent of expert evidence bears the burden of establishing that the expert’s testimony is admissible. Lewis v. CITGO Petroleum Corp., 561 F.3d 698, 705 (7th Cir. 2009).

Plaintiffs move to strike aspects of the expert reports of P. David Halstead and Irving Scher. Although plaintiffs dispute Halstead’s qualifications, the main question is whether Halstead and Scher used reliable methodologies and reasoning. The admissibility inquiry undertaken by the court “must be ‘tied to the facts’ of a particular case.” Kumho, 526 U.S. at 150 (quoting Daubert, 509 U.S. at 591). The “critical inquiry” for admissibility is whether the opinion is rationally connected to the underlying data or “connected to the existing data ‘only by the ipse dixit of the expert.'” Gopalratnam v. Hewlett-Packard Co., 877 F.3d 771, 781, 732 Fed. Appx. 484 (7th Cir. 2017). Expert testimony that merely asserts a “bottom line” or provides testimony based on subjective belief or speculation is inadmissible. Metavante Corp. v. Emigrant Sav. Bank, 619 F.3d 748, 761 (7th Cir. 2010).

1. P. David Halstead

P. David Halstead is the Technical Director of Southern Impact Research Center. Halstead conducted a series of drop tests to try to replicate the damage on Scott’s helmet, and thereby to determine the amount of force that the helmet and Scott experienced at the time of Scott’s fall. Dkt. 110, at 6. Halstead offers two main opinions: (1) [*7] that the helmet was not defective, and (2) that the helmet was out of place at the time of the accident. Plaintiffs move to strike three aspects of Halstead’s report. Dkt. 137, at 6-7.

First, plaintiffs move to strike Halstead’s opinion that the helmet was out of position at the time of the accident. Halstead expresses that opinion in various forms:

• “It is my opinion that Mr. Rogers’ injuries were caused by complex fall kinematics that resulted while his helmet was out of position (rotated slightly to the left and possibly higher on the right) exposing his temporal bone in the area he sustained the mastoid fracture.” Dkt. 110, at 7.

• “Mr. Rogers sustained his injuries when his partially helmeted head, with the mastoid area of the temporal bone exposed, made contact with a somewhat compliant surface such as snow substantially similar to the snow measured at Afton Alps.” Id. at 9.

• “The skull fracture is a result of functionally direct contact with the impact surface to the mastoid area.” Id.

• “Given the test results had the helmet been in position the skull fracture almost certainly would not have occurred.” Id.

The court agrees with plaintiff that Halstead has not shown that this opinion is [*8] rationally connected to underlying data.

Halstead conducted a series of drop tests using K2 Phase 08 helmets, the same model as Scott’s helmet. Id. at 6. Under the ASTM standards, a helmet must keep the user’s head from accelerating more than 300 g, meaning that the force of impact on the skull is equivalent to 300 times the force of gravity or less. Dkt. 124-13, at 3. Although these drop tests were not testing for ASTM compliance, Halstead used 300 g as a threshold for the helmet’s effectiveness. Halstead conducted eleven tests by dropping helmets on to a modular elastomer programmer (MEP), a rubber pad that is somewhat harder than packed snow. Dkt. 110, at 6. None of the drops resulted in an acceleration of more than 181 g or damaged the helmet in a way that resembled the damage to Scott’s helmet. So Halstead conducted three more tests using a harder, steel anvil. Id. at 6. One of these drops did crack the helmet, but the damage was still not as severe as Scott’s helmet.

Halstead opined that because his tests could not replicate the damage to Scott’s helmet, Scott’s helmet must not have been in place on Scott’s head at the time of the accident. Id. at 8-9. Halstead did not conduct any follow-up testing; he [*9] did not, for example, try dropping the helmet while it was out of place on the headform or try dropping the helmet without using a full-sized headform. Instead, Halstead scanned both the accident helmet and the most severely damaged test helmet with a laser. Id. After eyeballing the results of the laser scan, Halstead again concluded that the damage did not match and that therefore the helmet was not in place at the time of the accident. He opined specifically that the helmet rotated to the left, exposing the area where Scott’s skull was fractured.

Two factors that a court may consider regarding the admissibility of expert testimony are whether the expert “unjustifiably extrapolated from an accepted premise to an unfounded conclusion” and whether “the expert has adequately accounted for obvious alternative explanations.” Gopalratnam, 877 F.3d at 788 (quoting Fuesting v. Zimmer, Inc., 421 F.3d 528, 534-35 (7th Cir. 2005)). Both factors support striking Halstead’s opinion here. When Halstead’s test results failed to re-create the damage to Scott’s helmet, Halstead had a basis for concluding that Scott’s fall was in some way atypical. But he had no foundation to then extrapolate from these results that the helmet was therefore out of position. And he was even less justified [*10] in hypothesizing on the helmet’s exact orientation during the accident. Halstead did not confirm his hypothesis through additional testing, nor did he address alternative explanations for the damage to Scott’s helmet, such as the existence of a manufacturing defect or a weakening of the helmet through multiple impacts. And his use of laser scanning provided no additional details to support his hypothesis. Halstead simply picked one possible explanation for the test results and then assumed it was true. Halstead concedes that he is not an expert in the “full body kinematics” that are critical to understanding how Scott was injured. Dkt. 110, at 7.

Second, plaintiffs move to strike Halstead’s opinion regarding the speed and force of impact on Scott’s head at the time of the accident:

Based on biomechanical testing the likely impact speed of his head to the surface was 13-14 mph or higher, head accelerations were in the range of 170 g — 220 g with angular acceleration between 7000-8000 rad/sec2.

Dkt. 110, at 7. The court will strike this opinion. Rule 702 places the responsibility on the expert to explain how his methodologies support his opinions. Metavante, 619 F.3d at 761. Although not explicitly stated, Halstead appears [*11] to have adopted these numbers from the results of his tests on the MEP pad. Dkt. 110, at 6. But as Halstead emphasized in his report, the tests on the MEP pad were unable to replicate Scott’s accident. It is not clear why the speeds and forces of impact must nonetheless be correct, and Halstead does not provide an explanation.

Third, plaintiffs move to strike Halstead’s opinion regarding the helmet’s ability to protect against high-speed impact:

“As the biomechanical testing shows the helmet, at its thinnest, well below the test line is able to take an impact at nearly 14 miles per hour with a hemi anvil and still remain under 300g.”

Id. at 7. The court will not strike this opinion, which is based on the test results. Plaintiffs suggest that Halstead is not qualified to provide “biomechanical engineering opinions,” but in their reply brief, plaintiffs concede that Halstead is an experienced technician who is qualified to conduct the type of drop testing he performed. Dkt. 151, at 2.

The bottom line is that the court will consider Halstead’s drop testing analysis, but it will not consider his testimony that the helmet was out of place at the time of the accident.

2. Irving Scher, Ph.D., P.E

Irving [*12] Scher is a biomechanical engineer at Guidance Engineering and Applied Research. Scher’s report includes two separate sets of conclusions that are relevant to summary judgment. First, Scher used computer models to determine the fit and looseness of the helmet that Scott wore. Second, Scher conducted a biomechanical engineering analysis to determine the “kinematics” of the accident—the movement of Scott’s body and ski equipment according to the laws of physics. Plaintiffs move to strike both sets of conclusions. Dkt. 137, at 7-8.

a. Helmet fit

Scher opines that the helmet was poorly fit and that it was loose enough to move out of place:

• “Mr. Roger’s head circumference at the hat line is approximately 57 centimeters. Because the head size recommended for the subject helmet ranges from 59 to 62, Mr. Rogers’ head was at or below the lower end of the subject helmet’s size.” Dkt. 107, ¶¶ 10-12.

• “At the level of the helmet brim there was at least 2 to 4 centimeters of free space between Mr. Rogers’ head and the helmet in the anterior-posterior direction, and the helmet had space to rotate 20 degrees clockwise and counter-clockwise.” Id. ¶ 13.

• “The subject helmet was not snugly fitted to Mr. [*13] Rogers’ head.” Id. ¶ 14.

These opinions are rationally connected to the reasonably reliable data that Scher considered; the court will not strike them.

Scher created a 3D computer model of Scott’s head from the CT scans on the night of Scott’s accident. Dkt. 112, at 15. Using this model, Scher calculated circumference of Scott’s head as 57 centimeters. Because the helmet that Scott purchased was recommended for head circumferences of 59 to 62 centimeters, Scher opined that Scott’s helmet was one size too large. Scher scanned an exemplar K2 helmet of the same size as Scott’s helmet. Within his computer modeling software, Scher placed the 3D model of the helmet on the 3D model of Scott’s head. Scher determined that there was at least 2.25 centimeters of free space between Scott’s head and the interior of the helmet, and that with this extra space the helmet could freely rotate 20 degrees clockwise and counterclockwise. Finally, Scher viewed photographs of Scott on the day of the accident and determined that Scott’s chin strap was “loose.” Id. at 16. Scher’s analysis of the helmet’s fit led Scher to conclude that it was possible for the helmet to move out of position and expose a portion of the [*14] posterior region of Scott’s head.

Plaintiffs contend that Scher’s analysis is unreliable because Scott’s head actually has a circumference of 60 centimeters, not 57 centimeters. Plaintiffs’ measurement comes from Tracy’s declaration that she measured Scott’s head with a tape measure. Dkt. 123, ¶¶ 7-8.3 Neither party adduces evidence showing that the other party’s measurement is manifestly incorrect, so the size of Scott’s head is a matter of genuine dispute.4 Such a dispute does not render Scher’s opinion inadmissible.

b. Kinematics analysis

Scher also offered opinions about how Scott fell and how he was injured, which Scher refers to as a “kinematics” analysis. He expresses those opinions as follows:

• “Mr. Rogers likely caught his ski edge, fell forward and leftward while rotating clockwise and continuing downhill, and contacted the left, posterior region of his helmeted head on his acromioclavicular joint and proximal humerus, a very rigid area of hard-packed snow, or both.” Dkt. 112, at 36.

• “Because the helmet was not snug on Mr. Rogers’s head and he did not adjust appropriately the chin strap, the subject helmet was able to (and did) move out of position during Mr. Rogers’s fall [*15] and subsequent head impact.” Id.

• “No snowsport helmet would be able to prevent the injuries sustained by Mr. Rogers in the subject accident.” Id.

• “The subject helmet rotated axially counterclockwise and rightwards on Mr. Rogers’ head during his fall such that his helmet was out of place and exposed a portion of the left posterior region of his head just prior to impact.” Dkt. 107, ¶ 9.

• “Mr. Rogers failed to properly tighten the subject helmet’s chin strap, which allowed the subject helmet to move out of position as he fell.” Id. ¶ 15.

• “Immediately before Mr. Rogers’ head contacted the ground, the subject helmet moved out of position, causing the point of impact to be below the helmet’s test line.” Id. ¶ 18.

• “In my professional opinion, any snow sport helmet with a similar fit and loose chin strap on Mr. Rogers’ head would have similarly moved relative to his head in the subject fall.” Id. ¶ 20.

The court will not consider these opinions because they are too speculative: there is simply not enough information about how Scott fell to support this analysis.

Based on the assumption that “catching an edge” is a common occurrence among skiers, and the location and severity of Scott’s [*16] injuries, Scher created a computer simulation using the computer program MADYMO. Scher ran several simulations in MADYMO, using different estimates for Scott’s speed and the conditions on the ski slope. Id. at 29. He tweaked the variables in the simulation until he was able to create a simulation that could result in injuries similar to Scott’s injuries. Then based on that simulation, he opined on Scott’s body movements as he fell, and the forces that Scott experienced when he hit the ground. Scher opines both that Scott’s helmet hit the ground below the test line, and that Scott hit the ground with such force that no helmet could have prevented Scott’s injuries.

Scher’s simulation, and the opinions based on it, are inadmissible because they are based on guesswork rather than the facts of Scott’s accident. An expert must show that he has sufficient data to use the methodology employed. See Gopalratnam, 877 F.3d at 781 (Rule 702 requires the underlying data to be both qualitatively and quantitatively sufficient to conduct the analysis). Opinions that are based on speculation are inadmissible. Metavante, 619 F.3d at 761. Here, there was no witness who could describe the moments leading up to the fall, no measurement or even estimate of Scott’s speed at the [*17] time of the fall, and no reliable evidence of Scott’s skiing abilities or style. The court will exclude the opinions expressed on pages 21 through 31 of Scher’s report. Dkt. 112.

Scher is free to testify that the helmet was loose and that it might have moved out of position. And he can testify that based on Halstead’s testing, and based on the literature regarding head injuries and ski accidents, it seems unlikely that a typical fall could have caused the injuries that occurred. But Scher cannot speculate that the helmet actually moved or opine on the exact location of the helmet at the time of impact.

B. K2’s motion for summary judgment

Plaintiffs bring claims under theories of strict product liability, negligence, breach of warranty, and loss of consortium. K2 moves for summary judgment on all of plaintiffs’ claims. The court will grant summary judgment on only the breach of warranty claims, which plaintiffs waive. Genuine disputes of material fact preclude summary judgment on the other claims.

1. Summary judgment standard

Summary judgment is appropriate only if there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court views all facts [*18] and draws all inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). Summary judgment will not be granted unless “the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party.” Sarver v. Experian Info. Sols., 390 F.3d 969, 970 (7th Cir. 2004) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986)).

2. Strict Product liability claim

Wisconsin product liability law is codified under Wisconsin Statute § 895.047.5 A product liability claim has five elements: (1) the product was defective; (2) the defect rendered the product unreasonably dangerous; (3) the defect existed when the product left the control of the manufacturer; (4) the product reached the consumer without substantial change; and (5) the defect caused the claimant’s damages. Wis. Stat. § 895.047(1). K2 contends that they are entitled to summary judgment because plaintiffs cannot show that the helmet had a defect that rendered it unreasonably dangerous and because plaintiffs cannot show that the alleged defect caused Scott’s injuries.

There are three different categories of defects under the statute: design defects, manufacturing defects, and warning defects. Plaintiffs concede that they do not have evidence of a manufacturing defect, but they bring alternative claims for defective design if the helmet was in place during the accident and [*19] defective warning if the helmet fell out of place before the impact. Under the first theory, plaintiffs must show that the helmet had a design defect that caused Scott’s injuries to be worse than they would have been without the defect. Under the second theory, plaintiffs must show that the helmet’s instructions did not warn users to tighten the chinstrap. K2 seeks summary judgment as to both theories.

a. Defective design

Defendants contend that plaintiffs cannot adduce evidence of a design defect and that, even if a defect exists, plaintiffs cannot show that it caused Scott’s injuries. The court will address each element in turn.

i. Unreasonably dangerous defect

Summary judgment is inappropriate when resolution of a claim requires the court to choose between opposing expert testimony. See Wipf v. Kowalski, 519 F.3d 380, 385 (7th Cir. 2008) (explaining that “in a case of dueling experts . . . it is left to the trier of fact . . . to decide how to weigh the competing expert testimony”). That is the case here. Both parties hired experts to test K2 helmets according to ASTM standards, but the experts disagree on the testing procedures and achieved different results.6

Under Wisconsin’s product liability statute, a product is defective in design [*20] if the “foreseeable risks of harm posed by the product could have been reduced or avoided by the adoption of a reasonable alternative design by the manufacturer and the omission of the alternative design renders the product not reasonably safe.” Wis. Stat. § 895.047(1)(a).

K2 contends that plaintiffs have not shown any evidence of a design defect. But plaintiffs’ expert, Mariusz Ziejewski, provides evidence sufficient to support a reasonable jury verdict that a foreseeable risk of harm could have been reduced by the adoption of a reasonable alternative design. Ziejewski’s report states that due to tapering at the edge, the K2 helmet does not provide the protection required by ASTM standards when struck in the lower back. Dkt. 116; Dkt. 124-7. Ziejewski further states that other helmets without this tapering do provide the protection required by ASTM. This makes the K2 helmet more dangerous than helmets from K2’s competitors.

K2 argues that Ziejewski’s report is insufficient to establish a design defect because the report does not specifically opine that the design of the K2 helmet rendered it “not reasonably safe” or “unreasonably dangerous.” Dkt. 103, at 12. But an expert does not need to parrot the exact language [*21] used in the statute. See In re Zimmer NexGen Knee Implant Prods. Liab. Litig., 218 F. Supp. 3d 700, 725 (N.D. Ill. 2016), aff’d sub nom. In re Zimmer, NexGen Knee Implant Prods. Liab. Litig., 884 F.3d 746 (7th Cir. 2018) (“Plaintiffs are not required to put forth an expert to say the magic words . . . But Plaintiffs must provide sufficient evidence to allow a jury to reach that conclusion without resorting to speculation”) (applying Wisconsin law). A jury could use the evidence in the report to find that the increased danger posed by the K2 helmet’s tapering is unreasonable.

K2 also contends that to establish a design defect, plaintiffs must show that the K2 helmet failed the ASTM standards that were in effect at the time of manufacturing. K2 argues that Ziejewski instead tested the K2 helmet according to current ASTM testing procedures. Ziejewski concedes that he used the updated procedures, but he argues that it is more accurate than the old testing standard. Dkt. 124, ¶¶ 22-23. Plaintiffs need to show only that a reasonable alternative design would have eliminated the risk of harm. Ziejewski tested multiple helmets using the same test methods and concluded the K2 helmet failed where alternative designs did not.

The ASTM standards may be relevant, but they are not dispositive. If the ASTM standards were adopted by federal or state law, then K2 would be entitled [*22] to a rebuttable presumption that the helmet was not defective. Wis. Stat. § 895.047(3)(c). But the ASTM standards are only voluntary. Compliance with voluntary standards at the time of manufacturing may be evidence that K2 behaved reasonably, in defense of plaintiffs’ negligence claim. See Michaels v. Mr. Heater, Inc., 411 F. Supp. 2d 992, 997 (W.D. Wis. 2006) (citing Getty Petroleum Marketing, Inc. v. Capital Terminal Co., 391 F.3d 312, 326 (1st Cir. 2004)). So, at trial, K2 can raise this defense in response to plaintiffs’ negligence claim. But it is only a piece of evidence that the jury may weigh when deciding whether defendants met their duty to exercise reasonable care. Id.

ii. Causation

K2 also contends that it is entitled to summary judgment because the helmet was out of place at the time of impact, so plaintiffs cannot show that any alleged defect caused Scott’s injuries. The location of the helmet at the time of the accident is sharply and genuinely disputed, so that theory provides no basis for granting summary judgment to K2.

Nevertheless, K2 contends that even if the helmet was in place, it is still entitled to summary judgment because no helmet could have prevented Scott’s injury because preexisting injuries made him particularly vulnerable. This theory provides no basis for granting summary judgment to K2 either.

K2 adduces some evidence that Scott had suffered [*23] previous head injuries. Dkt. 144, ¶¶ 45-50. But K2 has scant evidence that the prior injuries were serious ones. More important, K2 does not adduce any evidence to support the outlandish statement in its brief that “no helmet would have been able to prevent the injuries he sustained on December 31, 2015.” Dkt. 103, at 10. K2’s own proposed findings of fact undermine this idea:

Had Mr. Rogers not been wearing a helmet, his brain injury would have been at least as severe if not more severe than it was on December 331, 2015, leaving him with worse permanent residuals or traumatic brain injury, or could have even adversely impacted his survival.

Dkt. 144, ¶ 51. K2 also says that plaintiffs’ expert Ziejewski “concedes that an alternative design would not have prevented Mr. Rogers from suffering a traumatic brain injury or a subdural hematoma in the subject incident.” Dkt. 103, at 11 (citing Dkt. 144, ¶ 28). As plaintiffs point out, K2 has grossly misstated the substance of Ziejewski’s deposition testimony in this proposed fact. Ziejewski testified that a properly designed helmet would have prevented a subdural hematoma, a level 4 injury. Ziejewski acknowledged that even with a properly designed [*24] helmet, “mild traumatic brain injury” was still a possible or likely outcome. Dkt. 122, at 28:21-29:25.

b. Defective Instructions

Plaintiffs’ alternative theory is that if the helmet slipped out of place before impact, it slipped because of defective instructions. Under Wisconsin’s product liability statute, a product is defective because of inadequate instructions or warnings if “foreseeable risks of harm posed by the product could have been reduced or avoided by the provision of reasonable instructions or warnings by the manufacturer and the omission of the instructions or warnings renders the product not reasonably safe.” Wis. Stat. § 895.047(1)(a). Plaintiffs do not need to show that Scott actually read the instructions to prove causation. When a product is missing an adequate warning, the missing warning is a substantial factor in causing injury if a reasonable person would have heeded the warning and as a result avoided injury. Michaels, 411 F. Supp. 2d at 1006 (citing Tanner v. Shoupe, 228 Wis. 2d 357, 596 N.W.2d 805, 817-18 (Ct. App. 1999)). There is a presumption that any missing instructions would have been read, and therefore a presumption of causation. Id.

Throughout its briefing, K2 contends that the looseness of Scott’s chinstrap was a factor that caused the helmet to slip out of place. Plaintiffs contend [*25] that any mistake by Scott in tightening his chinstrap was caused by the fitting instructions included with the helmet. The helmet’s instructions state that the helmet should be snug and that after adjusting the straps and pads, “the skin on your forehead should move with the helmet.” Dkt. 145, ¶ 10. The instructions do not include specific directions on the tightness of the chinstrap. A reasonable jury could find that this instruction does not warn consumers that they need to tighten the chinstrap in addition to adjusting the pads and comfort liner.

K2 contends that plaintiffs are required to adduce expert testimony regarding the effectiveness of product warnings. Dkt. 103, at 15. But K2 cites no case in which expert testimony was required to show that a warning was defective. Under Wisconsin law, expert testimony is required only if the court finds that “the underlying issue is not within the realm of the ordinary experience of mankind.” State v. Kandutsch, 2011 WI 78, ¶ 28, 336 Wis. 2d 478, 799 N.W.2d 865 (internal quotations omitted). And Wisconsin courts have declined to require expert testimony in cases involving much more complex issues than these fitting instructions. See Lindeman v. Mt. Olympus Enterprises, Inc., No. 14-cv-435, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 105756, 2015 WL 4772925, at *3 (W.D. Wis. Aug. 12, 2015) (collecting cases). [*26] Here, the instructions are written in plain language, and the act of reading and following instructions is well within the ordinary experience of mankind.

The court denies K2’s motion for summary judgment on the defective instructions claim.

3. Negligence claim

Plaintiffs also bring a claim for negligence. To sustain this claim, plaintiffs must prove (1) the existence of a duty of care on the part of the defendant, (2) a breach of that duty of care, (3) a causal connection between the defendant’s breach of the duty of care and the plaintiff’s injury, and (4) actual loss or damage resulting from the injury. Smaxwell v. Bayard, 2004 WI 101, ¶ 32, 274 Wis. 2d 278, 682 N.W.2d 923. In Wisconsin, a manufacturer’s duty of care includes the duty to safely design the product so it is fit for its intended purpose, and the duty to conduct adequate inspections and tests to determine the extent of defects. Wis. Civil Jury Instructions § 3200(2).

K2 contends that plaintiffs have not adduced evidence of “specific acts of negligence.” Dkt. 103, at 17. But plaintiffs can rely on the same evidence used to establish their product liability claims. Although negligence and product liability are alternative theories of liability, there is significant overlap between the two. See Krien v. Harsco Corp., 745 F.3d 313, 317 (7th Cir. 2014) (“[A] [*27] claim of strict products liability is much like a negligence claim because it requires proof either that the product was unreasonably dangerous or, what amounts to the same thing, that it was defective”). Plaintiffs’ expert testimony from Ziejewski is sufficient to create a material dispute regarding whether K2 breached its duty to design a product that was safe for skiers.

4. Breach of warranty claim

K2 moves for summary judgment on plaintiffs’ claims for breach of warranty on two grounds. Dkt. 103, at 17-18. First, K2 contends that under Austin v. Ford Motor Co., claims for breach of warranty cannot be brought when the plaintiff has a tort claim. See 86 Wis.2d 628, 273 N.W.2d 233, 240 (1979) (“[I]t is inappropriate to bring an action for breach of warranty where a tort remedy is sought”). Second, K2 contends that there is no privity of contract between plaintiffs and K2. See St. Paul Mercury Ins. Co. v. Viking Corp., 539 F.3d 623, 626 (7th Cir. 2008) (Wisconsin law requires privity of contract between parties before liability can be founded on breach of express or implied warranty).

Plaintiffs have not substantively responded to either of these arguments. Dkt. 137, at 52-53. Failure to respond to an argument can result in waiver or forfeit of a claim. Nichols v. Nat’l Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, PA, 509 F. Supp. 2d 752, 760 (W.D. Wis. 2007) (collecting cases). Because plaintiffs did not [*28] respond to K2’s arguments regarding privity or the ability to bring warranty claims in a tort case, the court will grant summary judgment for K2 on plaintiffs’ claims for breach of warranty.

5. Loss of consortium claim

K2 moves for summary judgment on Tracy’s loss of consortium claim because it is derivative of Scott’s injuries. Because the court denies summary judgment on Scott’s product liability and negligence claims, it will also deny summary judgment on Tracy’s claim for loss of consortium.

K2 also moves to dismiss Tracy’s claim on the ground that plaintiffs have not properly pleaded loss of consortium in their amended complaint. Plaintiffs’ amended complaint does not include “loss of consortium” as an independent cause of action, but it does include allegations that “Plaintiff Tracy Rogers . . . has been deprived of the services, society, companionship and consortium of Scott Rogers as a proximate result of his enhanced injuries.” Dkt. 32, ¶ 23. K2 contends that this is insufficient under the plausible pleading standard of Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009).

Plaintiffs’ allegations are sufficient to state a claim. Even post-Iqbal, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 requires only “adequate notice of the scope of, and basis for” the asserted claims. [*29] Avila v. CitiMortgage, Inc., 801 F.3d 777, 783 (7th Cir. 2015) (citing Vincent v. City Colleges of Chi., 485 F.3d 919, 923 (7th Cir.2007)). Here, K2 had adequate notice that Tracy was seeking relief for loss of consortium as a result of the enhanced injuries caused by the K2 helmet.

C. Additional motions and requests for relief

As a final matter, plaintiffs ask the court to deny certain requests by K2 that plaintiffs contend were improperly included in K2’s summary judgment reply. Dkt. 149. Some of the “motions” to which plaintiffs refer are objections to allegedly inadmissible evidence—objections that K2 is allowed to raise during summary judgment. For example, K2 objects that the declarations from Tracy and Ziejewski, first produced with plaintiffs’ summary judgment opposition, are untimely expert testimony. Dkt. 143, at 3-10. There is nothing improper about K2 making these objections in its summary judgment reply. (The court has overruled the objection to Tracy’s declaration, and it has not considered the Ziejewski declaration. Whether the Ziejewski evidence will be allowed at trial will be addressed later at the final pretrial conference.)

But K2 requests two additional forms of relief in its reply brief. First, K2 contends that plaintiffs should be sanctioned for spoliation because Tracy adjusted the helmet’s [*30] comfort liner and therefore altered it from its condition at the time of the accident. Dkt. 143, at 7-8 fn. 7. Second, K2 contends that plaintiffs did not disclose the existence of Scott’s ski goggles and must be ordered to turn them over. Id. at 8.

A party may not raise new issues in a reply brief. See Casna v. City of Loves Park, 574 F.3d 420, 427 (7th Cir. 2009). In any event, both of K2’s requests for additional relief are undeveloped. The spoliation arguments are relegated to a footnote. And both requests misconstrue the history of this case. K2’s own experts previously removed the helmet’s comfort lining at issue. Dkt. 112, at 10-11. And K2 was already aware of Scott’s goggles, Dkt. 130 (Tracy dep. 33:9-17), and Halstead included a pair of goggles as a factor in his testing. Dkt. 110, at 4. The court will deny K2’s requests for additional relief, thus granting plaintiffs’ request.

ORDER

IT IS ORDERED that:

1. Plaintiffs motion to exclude the opinion testimony of K2’s experts, Dkt. 139, is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part, as provided in this opinion.

2. Defendant K2’s motion for summary judgment, Dkt. 102, is DENIED for the most part. The motion is GRANTED only with respect to plaintiffs’ claims for breach of warranty.

3. Plaintiffs Scott Rogers and [*31] Tracy Rogers’ motion, Dkt. 149, for summary denial of K2’s motions is GRANTED in part. The court denies defendant K2’s motions to produce ski goggles and to sanction plaintiffs for spoliation.

4. Pursuant to the parties’ stipulation, Dkt. 250, all claims as to defendants Lexington Insurance Company and AIG Europe Limited are DISMISSED without prejudice.

Entered December 28, 2018.

BY THE COURT:

/s/ JAMES D. PETERSON

District Judge


What the term “strictly construed” actually means when used to describe how a release will be viewed by the court.

The decision involves several legal issues, the one that concerns us is the issue of a release for a product. In Kansas, releases are strictly construed. In this case that meant that the language of the release did not meet the requirements of state law for a release. However, the court stretched incredibly far to come to that conclusion.

Fee v. Steve Snyder Enterprises, Inc.; Et. Al., 1986 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28158

State: Kansas, United States District Court for the District of Kansas

Plaintiff: Patricia Fee

Defendant: Steve Snyder Enterprises, Inc.; Russell Young; SSE, Incorporated; Greene County Sport Parachute Center of Wellsville, Kansas, Inc.; and John Doe Corporation

Plaintiff Claims: Wrongful death and survival claims based on negligence, product liability and breach of warranty

Defendant Defenses: Statute of Limitations ran,

Holding: for the plaintiff

Year: 1986

Summary

The lawsuit was brought over the failure of an automatic opener, which did not during a sky dive. The widow sued the manufacture of the device and the sky-diving center who sold the device to the deceased. The deceased signed a release and indemnity agreement, two separate documents when purchasing the automatic opener.

In Kansas, releases are allowed but strictly construed. Here strict construction is used, improperly, to interpret the release in an extremely narrow way to allow the lawsuit to proceed.

Facts

The deceased died when he was sky diving, and his automatic opening device failed to open. The automatic opening device was manufactured by the defendant.

The plaintiff spent eight years attempting to serve the defendant, starting in 1977 and finally serving the defendant in 1985. This lead to a discussion about when the lawsuit actually started, which takes the first half of the decision. Because the defendant had avoided service of process, because he knew about it and made attempts not to get sued, the date of the lawsuit started was the date he was served. However, due to the defendant’s actions, the statute of limitations did not run.

The widow purchased the automatic opener for the deceased, although the dates in the decision must be incorrect. The decision states the device was purchased a year after the deceased died. The device failed the first time it was used by the decedent.

The deceased signed a release for the parachute center. The defendant manufacturer raised the release as a defense to the claims of the plaintiff against the manufacture as well as those claims against the dive center.

The release was on one side of the paper and on the reverse was an assumption of risk language. The deceased also signed a separate indemnify agreement. The decedent signed both agreements.

This decision is that of the Federal District Court in Kansas.

Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.

The court first looked at release law in Kansas. If not against public policy, then Kansas recognizes exculpatory agreements, releases. However, like many state’s releases, the courts in Kansas use the language that releases “are not favored by the law and are strictly construed against the party relying on them.” Strictly construed does not require the specific term negligence but must clearly appear to express the intent to release from liability the defendant.

It is not necessary; however, that the agreement contained specific or express language covering in so many words the party’s negligence, if the intention to exculpate the party from liability clearly ap-pears from the contract, the surrounding circumstances and the purposes and objects of the parties.

The court in reading the release found it did not stop the plaintiff’s claims.

The court first in looking at the language found the language covered use of the product but did not cover liability for “sale” of the product.

First, a review of the agreement itself shows that, although it specifically releases the Parachute Center from liability for injuries or death arising out of the “ownership, operation, use, maintenance or control” of many devices,” the agreement fails to mention any release of liability revolving around the sale of any product to the parachuter.

The court admitted the deceased understood that parachuting was dangerous, that was not enough. By making the determination that the product was defective when sold, the court found the release would not stand because you cannot release liability for selling a defective product.

Strictly construing the agreement; however, we do not believe that this should be interpreted to exempt the Parachute Center from a failure to use due care in furnishing safe equipment, or should allow it to sell a product in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to the parachuter. To do so would impermissibly extend the terms of the agreement to situations not plainly within its language.

The court then determined the release would also not work to stop the plaintiff’s claims for breach of either express or implied warranty. The court found attempting to release the defendant parachute center from liability was unconscionable. Under Kansas law, a release could be used to stop warranty claims, unless that was found to be unconscionable.

We, therefore, hold that plaintiff’s action is not barred by the release, covenant not to sue and indemnity clause signed by the plaintiff’s decedent. Summary judgment in favor of the defendants Parachute Center and Russell Young is therefore, inappropriate.

The indemnification agreement seemed to be ignored in reaching this determination by the court.

So Now What?

Strict construction is a term that gives leeway to a court to review the language of the release to make sure it conforms to the language required under state law. However, that term was created and applied to release’s decades ago and rarely used now except in rare situations like this. When the judge wants the defendant to pay.

Probably the term was created when courts were first asked to apply releases to a plaintiff’s claims and wanted a way to soften the blow. Now days, in most states it is quoted in the decision at the beginning and never heard of again. Eventually if the courts review enough releases, the term is not even quoted.

Few states allow a release to be used to stop product liability claims. However, several states do and several states allow assumption of risk to stop product liability claims. A well-written release that incorporates assumption of risk language is still effective in many product liability cases.

Here, however, the court reached as far as it could to find that the release was barred from stopping the claims. Part of that desire to allow the suit to proceed was probably because of the actions of the manufacturer who spend eight years avoiding service of the lawsuit.

The rest, however, was simply a stretch to allow the lawsuit to proceed.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Fee v. Steve Snyder Enterprises, Inc.; et. Al., 1986 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28158

Fee v. Steve Snyder Enterprises, Inc.; et. Al., 1986 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28158

Patricia Fee, Plaintiff, v. Steve Snyder Enterprises, Inc.; Russell Young; SSE, Incorporated; Greene County Sport Parachute Center of Wellsville, Kansas, Inc.; and John Doe Corporation, Defendants

CIVIL ACTION No. 84-2323

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF KANSAS

1986 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28158

March 14, 1986

CASE SUMMARY:

CORE TERMS: parachute, sport, summary judgment, decedent, personally, covenant, implied warranties, statute of limitations, service of process, mail service, notice, mail, parachuting, personal injury, personal service, parachuter, consumer, assigns, wrongful death, strict liability, territorial limits, unconscionable, consequential, predecessor, disclaimer, diversity, automatic, warranty, opening, saving

COUNSEL: [*1] John E. McKay, LAW OFFICES OF BENSON & McKAY, 911 Main Street, Suite 1430, Kansas City, Missouri 64105, (816) 842-7604; Mark R. Singer/Micheline Z. Burger ROMAIN, BURGER & SINGER, CHTD., The College View Building, 4500 College Blvd., Suite 103, Overland Park, Kansas 66221, (913)649-5224; Paul v. Herbers, James E. Cooling, Cooling, Herbers & Sears, P.C., P.O. Box 26770, Kansas City, MO 64196, (816) 474-0770; Russell C. Leffel, 7315 Frontage Road, Suite 111, Shawnee Mission, KS 66204, 913-362-9727, Neal E. Millert, Larry J. Tyrl, James, Millert, Houdek, Tyrl & Sommers, 804 Bryant Building, 1102 Grand, Kansas City, Missouri 64106, Randolph G. Austin, Speer, Austin, Holliday, & Ruddick, 261 N. Cherry, P.O. Box 1000, Olathe, Kansas 66061.

OPINION BY: O’CONNOR

OPINION

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

EARL E. O’CONNOR, CHIEF JUDGE.

This matter is before the court on defendants’ motions for summary judgment and plaintiff’s motion for costs. This is a diversity action for wrongful death and survivorship based on claims of negligence, strict liability and breach of express and implied warranties.

I. Motion for Summary Judgment by Defendant SSE, Incorporated.

Defendant SSE, Incorporated, moves for [*2] summary judgment on the ground that plaintiff’s action is barred by the two-year statute of limitations found at K.S.A. 60-513(a). For the following reasons, defendant’s motion must be denied.

[HN1] Summary judgment is appropriate when the matters considered by the court disclose that “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c). The court must look at the record in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Prochaska v. Marcoux, 632 F.2d 848, 850 (10th Cir. 1980), cert. denied, 451 U.S. 984 (1981). Before summary judgment may be granted, the moving party must establish that it is entitled to summary judgment beyond a reasonable doubt. Ellis v. El Paso Natural Gas Co., 754 F.2d 884, 885 (10th Cir. 1985).

The uncontroverted facts relevant to this motion are as follows:

1. The plaintiff’s decedent died while skydiving on December 11, 1982, when his parachute failed to open. Decedent’s parachute was equipped with an automatic opening device, which was manufactured by the defendant SSE, Incorporated.

2. Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on August 13, [*3] 1984, consisting of wrongful death and survival claims based on negligence, product liability and breach of warranty. Plaintiff named Steve Snyder Enterprises, Inc., as a defendant, claiming that it was a Pennsylvania corporation that designed, manufactured and sold the defective device.

3. On August 14, 1984, the complaint was mailed to Steve Snyder Enterprises, Inc., at a New Jersey address.

4. Steve Snyder Enterprises, Inc., had changed its name to “SSE, Incorporated,” in November of 1977. Its corporate headquarters, however, remained at the same location.

5. SSE, Incorporated, received the complaint at the New Jersey address.

6. ln a telephone conversation with plaintiff’s counsel, the attorney for SSE, Incorporated, advised plaintiff’s counsel that neither SSE nor its predecessor corporation, Steve Snyder Enterprises, Inc., would accept service by mail.

7. On November 1, 1984, counsel for SSE, Incorporated, rated, wrote to plaintiff’s counsel, again informing him that SSE intended not to acknowledge the mail service.

8. On November 14, 1984, the complaint was again mailed to Steve Snyder Enterprises, Inc. SEE, Incorporated, received the complaint, but refused to sign or [*4] return an acknowledgement.

9. On December 7, 1984, plaintiff filed her first amended complaint, adding SSE, Incorporated, as a defendant.

10. From January 1985 to August 28, 1985, plaintiff’s process servers made thirty-three attempts to personally serve SSE, Incorporated.

11. On August 29, 1985, plaintiff successfully served Steve Snyder, the registered agent and president of SSE, Incorporated.

Defendant SSE, Incorporated, argues that summary judgment is appropriate on all of plaintiff’s claims because they are barred by the two-year statute of limitations for wrongful death actions set forth at K.S.A. 60-513(a)(5). The court notes, however, that not all of plaintiff’s claims are for wrongful death — Counts VI through VIII are survival actions based on negligence, strict liability and breach of express and implied warranties. Nevertheless, a similar two-year statute of limitations (see K.S.A. 60-13(a)(4)) applies to the negligence, strict liability and breach of warranty claims. See Grey v. Bradford-White Corp., 581 F.Supp. 725 (D. Kan. 1984). The court will therefore treat defendant’s motion as seeking summary judgment on all of plaintiff’s claims and not merely plaintiff’s [*5] wrongful death claims.

To decide whether plaintiff’s claims are barred by the two-year statute of limitations, we must first determine when plaintiff’s suit was commenced. [HN2] In a diversity action, the court must apply the state law prescribing when an action commences for statute of limitations purposes rather than Rule 3 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Walker v. Armco Steel Corp., 446 U.S. 740 (1980); Ragan v. Merchants Transfer & Warehouse Company, 337 U.S. 530 (1949). [HN3] Kansas law provides that an action is commenced at the time a petition is filed if service of process is obtained within ninety days. See K.S.A. 60-203(a)(1). If service is not obtained during the 90-day period, then the action is commenced at the time of service. Id.

Defendant argues that plaintiff’s action did not com- mence until August 29, 1985, when plaintiff personally served the agent of SSE, Incorporated, Steve Snyder. Accordingly, since plaintiff’s cause of action arose on December 11, 1982, her claims are barred by the two-year statute of limitations. We are not persuaded by defendant’s argument.

We conclude that plaintiff’s action was timely commenced under the saving provisions [*6] of K.S.A. 60-203(b). That section provides:

[HN4] If service of process or first publication purports to have been made within the time specified by subsection (a)(1) but is later adjudicated to have been invalid due to any irregularity in form or procedure or any defect in making service, the action shall nevertheless be deemed to have been commenced by the original filing of the petition if valid service is obtained or first publication is made within 90 days after that adjudication, except that the court may extend that time an additional 30 days upon a showing of good cause by the plaintiff.

Id.

Applying this statute to the facts in this case, we find that plaintiff purported to serve process by mail on August 14, 1984, only one day after the suit was filed. Service by mail is proper under a recent amendment to the Kansas Code of Civil Procedure. 1
See K.S.A. 60-314 (Supp. 1985). We find, however, that plaintiff’s service was invalid due to the defendant’s failure to complete and return the enclosed notice. Under the saving provision of section 60-203(b), we may nevertheless deem plaintiff’s action to have been commenced on the date plaintiff’s complaint was filed, [*7] so long as plaintiff makes personal service on the defendant within ninety days of this order.

1 We must look to the Kansas law prescribing the method of service. This is a diversity action in which plaintiff asserts jurisdiction over the defendant pursuant to the Kansas long-arm statute, K.S.A. 60-308. Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(f) provides that “process other than a subpoena may be served anywhere within the territorial limits of the state in which the district court is held, and when authorized by a statute of the United States or by these rules, beyond the territorial limits of that state.” There is no applicable federal statute that would allow service of process outside the state in this case. Thus, in order to obtain service beyond the territorial limits of the court, there must be authorization in “these rules.” Rule 4(e) provides for service of process on defendants who are not inhabitants of or found within the state. In pertinent part it states:

Whenever a statute or rule of court of the state in which the district is held provides (1) for service of a summons, or of a notice, or of an order in lieu of summons upon a party not an inhabitant of or found within the state, . . . service may . . . be made under the circumstances and in the manner prescribed in the [state] statute or rule.

Clearly, service by mail is a “manner” of service provided by the Kansas statute in this situation. See K.S.A. 60-314 (Supp. 1985).

[*8] Defendant also argues that because plaintiff’s mail service was directed to Steve Snyder Enterprises, Inc., rather than to SSE, Incorporated, it was totally ineffective. We find defendant’s argument meritless for two reasons. First, under the saving provision discussed above, plaintiff’s mistake in naming defendant’s predecessor corporation qualifies as a defect in the service that may be remedied by plaintiff reserving the defendant under its proper name within ninety days of this order. Second, [HN5] both the federal rules (Rule 15(c)) and Kansas law (K.S.A. 60-215(c)) allow for relation back of an amendment changing a party. Under these provisions, [HN6] a change in party relates back so long as the claim asserted arose out of the events set forth in the original complaint and

within the period provided by law for commencing the action against him, the party to be brought in by amendment (1) has received such notice of the institution of the action that he will not be prejudiced in maintaining his defense on the merits, and (2) knew or should have known that, but for a mistake concerning the identity of the proper party, the action would have been brought against him.

Federal Rule [*9] of Civil Procedure 15(c); K.S.A. 60-215(c).

In this case, an amendment changing defendant’s name from Steve Snyder Enterprises, Inc., to SSE, Incorporated, would clearly relate back. First, the claims asserted would be identical to those originally filed. Second, SSE, Incorporated, admits it had notice of this action within the statutory period. Counsel for SSE, Incorporated, informed plaintiff’s counsel in August and November of 1984 that SSE had received the mail service but chose not to acknowledge it. Third, SSE, Incorporated, knew that but for plaintiff’s confusion over the name of its predecessor corporation, the action would have been brought against it.

We therefore hold that plaintiff shall have ninety (90) days from the date of this order to personally serve the defendant SSE, Incorporated. Upon such service, plaintiff’s action will be deemed to have commenced on August 13, 1984, when the case was filed. Plaintiff’s claims will therefore be timely. If, however, plaintiff fails to serve SSE, Incorporated, within the 90-day time period, plaintiff’s action against this defendant will be deemed time-barred. Defendant’s motion for summary judgment will therefore be held in abeyance [*10] for ninety days from the date of this order to allow plaintiff to properly serve the defendant.

II. Plaintiff’s Motion for Costs.

Plaintiff moves for payment of the costs incurred in plaintiff’s previous attempts to personally serve defendant. [HN7] Costs are available pursuant to both Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(c)(2)(D) and K.S.A. 60-314:

Unless good cause is shown for not doing so the court shall order the payment of the costs of personal service by the person served if such person does not complete and return within 20 days after mailing, the notice and acknowledgment of receipt of summons.

Defendant in this case has shown no reason why costs should not be assessed against it. Defendant deliberately refused to acknowledge mail service and even went so far as to inform plaintiff that it was electing to assert its “right to service of process in the customary manner and not by mail.” Defendant’s Exhibit 4. Not only did defendant refuse mail service, but it also made every attempt to thwart personal service. Plaintiff was thus forced to attempt service at least thirty-three times against defendant. We therefore hold that plaintiff is entitled to recover costs in [*11] the amount of $1,628.47 as requested in her motion. Furthermore, plaintiff will be entitled to recover costs incurred in serving the defendant again, as discussed in part I above, upon plaintiff’s submission of proof of expenses.

III. Motion for Summary Judgment by Defendants Russell Young and Greene County Sport Parachute Center.

Defendant Russell Young moves for summary judgment on the ground that plaintiff’s decedent signed a release and covenant not to sue in favor of Greene County Sport Parachute Center of Wellsville, Kansas, Inc. (hereinafter the Parachute Center), and its employees and agents. The Parachute Center joins in said motion.

The material uncontroverted facts are as follows:

1. On May 8, 1982, plaintiff’s decedent signed a “Release and Covenant Not To Sue,” which read in pertinent part:

[I] do hereby fully and forever release and discharge the said Greene County Sport Parachute Center of Wellsville, Kansas, Inc. and their employees, servants, stockholders, agents, successors, assigns, and all other persons whomsoever directly or indirectly liable, from any and all other claims and demands, actions and cause of action, damages, costs, loss of services, [*12] expenses and any and all other claims of damages whatsoever, resulting from PERSONAL INJURIES, DEATH OR PROPERTY DAMAGES SUSTAINED BY ME, arising out of AIRCRAFT FLIGHTS, PARACHUTE JUMPS, or any other means of lift, ascent or descent from an aircraft of any nature, or arising out of the ownership, operation, use, maintenance or control of any vehicle, whether motor vehicle, aircraft, or otherwise, or any device, or mooring, while on the ground or in flight, and meaning and intending to include herein all such PERSONAL INJURIES, DEATH OR PROPERTY DAMAGE resulting from or in any way connected with or arising out of instructions, training, and ground or air operations incidental thereto.

This release and covenant not to sue is made and entered in consideration of the permission extended to me by Greene County Sport Parachute Center of Wellsville, Kansas, Inc. to participate in a course of parachuting instructions, parachuting training flying activities, ground or air operations incidental to parachuting and flying.

I further acknowledge that I will not rely on any oral or written representation of Greene County Sports Parachute Center of Wellsville, Kansas, Inc. or any agent thereof. [*13] I fully understand that there are dangerous risks in the sport of parachute jumping, and I assume said risks. . . .

I HAVE READ AND FULLY UNDERSTAND that Release and Covenant Not to Sue and sign the same as my own free act.

2. Plaintiff’s decedent also signed an “Indemnity Clause,” which read:

I acknowledge that Greene County Sport Parachute Center of Wellsville, Ks., Inc., is not an insurer of me. I do, for myself, my heirs, executors, administrators and assigns, hereby expressly stipulate, covenant and agree to indemnify and hold forever harmless the said Greene County Sport Parachute Center of Wellsville, Ks., Inc., and its employees, servants, stockholders, agents, successors, and assigns, and all other persons whomsoever against and from any and all actions, causes of action, claims and demands for damages, judgments, executions, costs, loss of services, expenses, compensation, including reimbursement of all legal costs and reasonable counsel fees incurred or paid by the said indemnified parties or any of them, for the investigation, prosecution or defense of any such action, cause of action or claim or demand for damages, and any and all other claims for damages, whatsoever, [*14] which may hereafter arise, or be instituted or recovered against said Greene County Sport Parachute Center of Wellsville, Ks., Inc., and its servants, employees, stockholders, agents, successors, assigns or any other person or persons whomsoever, by me or by any other person whomsoever, whether for the purpose of making or enforcing a claim for damages, on account of PERSONAL INJURIES, DEATH, OR PROPERTY DAMAGE sustained by me, or whether for the purpose of enforcing a claim for damages of any nature by any person whomsoever, on account of, or in any way resulting therefrom.

3. The decedent signed both the clause and release and certified that he had read them. His signature was witnessed by defendant Russell Young, President of the Parachute Center.

4. On the reverse side of the release, the decedent also signed and certified the following statements:

(9) I understand there are potential dangers and risks involved in this sport and acknowledge that the training I have received is intended to minimize such but is no guarantee or representation that there are none.

(10) I understand that parachuting is a potentially dangerous sport and that the proper functions of these parachutes [*15] or any parachute cannot be and is not guaranteed.

5. The decedent ordered and promised to pay for an automatic parachute opening device from the defendants Parachute Center and Russell Young. Young delivered the device to the decedent in December 1982.

6. The decedent used the device for the first time while skydiving on December 11, 1982. His parachute failed to open, he fell to the ground and was fatally injured.

7. The decedent’s widow paid the Parachute Center $254.60 for the device on January 27, 1983.

[HN8] Kansas courts have long recognized the validity of exculpatory agreements relieving a party from liability unless it would be against the settled public policy to do so. See, e.g., Belger Cartage Service, Inc. v. Holland Construction Co., 224 Kan. 320, 329, 582 P.2d 1111, 1118 (1978); Hunter v. American Rentals, 189 Kan. 615, 617, 371 P.2d 131, 133 (1962). Exculpatory contracts, however, “are not favored by the law and are strictly construed against the party relying on them.” Cason v. Geis Irrigation Co., 211 Kan. 406, 411, 507 P.2d 295, 299 (1973). Accord. Belger, 224 Kan. at 329, 582 P.2d at 1119. The terms of the agreement are not to be extended to [*16] situations not plainly within the language employed. Baker v. City of Topeka, 231 Kan. 328, 334, 644 P.2d 441, 446 (1982); Missouri Pacific Railroad Co. v. City of Topeka, 213 Kan. 658, 664, 518 P.2d 372, 377 (1973). It is not necessary, however, that the agreement contain specific or express language covering in so many words the party’s negligence, if the intention to exculpate the party from liability clearly appears from the contract, the surrounding circumstances and the purposes and objects of the parties. Bartlett v. Davis Corp., 219 Kan. 148, 159, 547 P.2d 800, 806 (1976).

After reviewing the language of the contract and the totality of the circumstances to determine the intent of these parties, we conclude that the release and indemnity clause do not preclude plaintiff’s action. First, a review of the agreement itself shows that, although it specifically releases the Parachute Center from liability for injuries or death arising out of the “ownership, operation, use, maintenance or control” of many device,” the agreement fails to mention any release of liability revolving around the sale of any product to the parachuter. Granted, there is a paragraph in [*17] which the parachuter states that he understands that parachuting is a potentially dangerous sport and that the proper function of the parachute cannot be guaranteed. Strictly construing the agreement, however, we do not believe that this should be interpreted to exempt the Parachute Center from a failure to use due care in furnishing safe equipment, or should allow it to sell a product in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to the parachuter. To do so would impermissibly extend the terms of the agreement to situations not plainly within its language.

Other courts have held that similar releases exempt parachute centers and trainers only from injuries that ordinarily occur without any fault of the defendant. See Diedrich v. Wright, 550 F.Supp. 805 (N.D. Ill. 1982); Gross v. Sweet, 49 N.Y.2d 102, 424 N.Y.S.2d 65, 400 N.E.2d 306 (Ct.App. 1979). We agree with these courts that the language alerting the parachuter to the dangers in parachute jumping is used to drive home to the individual that he must enter into this sport with an apprehension of the risks inherent in the nature of the sport. See 550 F.Supp. at 808; 49 N.Y.2d at
, 424 N.Y.S.2d at 369, 400 [*18] N.E.2d at It does not, however, follow that he must accept enhanced exposure to injury or death based on the carelessness of the defendants in selling him a defective product or failing to warn him about its use.

Furthermore, we hold that the release was ineffective under Kansas law to limit liability for a breach of either an express or implied warranty. [HN9] With respect to disclaimer of express warranties, K.S.A. 84-2-719(3) provides:

Consequential damages may be limited or excluded unless the limitation or exclusion is unconscionable. Limitation of consequential damages for injury to the person in the case of consumer goods is prima facie unconscionable but limitation of damages where the loss is commercial is not.

In this case, the automatic opening device qualifies as a consumer good under K.S.A. 84-9-109. Under section 84-2-719(3), the defendants’ attempt to exclude consequential damages for personal injury was unconscionable and therefore unenforceable.

Furthermore, with respect to disclaimer of implied warranties of merchantability, [HN10] the Kansas Consumer Protection Act flatly prohibits in consumer cases the use of any limitation on remedies or liability for implied [*19] warranties, and declares that any such disclaimers are void. K.S.A. 50-639(a) and (e). See also id. at 84-2-719 (Kansas Comment).

We therefore hold that plaintiff’s action is not barred by the release, covenant not to sue and indemnity clause signed by plaintiff’s decedent. Summary judgment in favor of the defendants Parachute Center and Russell Young is therefore inappropriate.

IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that defendants’ motion for summary judgment by Russell Young and Greene County Sport Parachute Center of Wellsville, Kansas, Inc., is denied.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that defendant’s motion for summary judgment by SSE, Incorporated, shall be held in abeyance until plaintiff obtains personal service upon SSE, Incorporated. Plaintiff shall have ninety (90) days from the date of this order to personally serve SSE, Incorporated. If plaintiff fails to so serve the defendant, defendant’s motion for summary judgment will be granted.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that plaintiff’s motion for costs to personally serve the defendant SSE, Incorporated, in the amount of $1,628.47, is granted.

Dated this 14th May of March, 1986, at Kansas City, Kansas.


A recall leads to lawsuits because injuries are connected to the product being recalled thus a lawsuit. Plaintiff’s hope the three can be connected

Plaintiff crashed her bike suffering head injuries. Plaintiff was wearing a bicycle helmet that was subject to a recall, earlier. Plaintiff hoped her injury could be paid by the helmet manufacturer using the recall as the influence with the jury.

Jenish v. Monarch Velo Llc dba Catlike USA, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34120; CCH Prod. Liab. Rep. P17,754 (E.D. Mich. S.D. 2007)

State: Michigan

Plaintiff: Tracy Ann Jenish

Defendant: Monarch Velo Llc dba Catlike USA, a Texas Corporation, The Kreb Cycle, a New York Corporation, and Catlike Sport Components SL

Plaintiff Claims: negligence, gross negligence, and breach of warranty

Defendant Defenses:

Holding: for the defendant

Year: 2007

This is why recalls are such a problem. The recalls themselves are a nightmare for the outdoor recreation industry because the problems don’t fit in the Consumer Product Safety Council (CPSC) mold. The cost goes through the roof trying to comply with the requirements of the recall and deal with the resulting bad publicity.

The biggest problem is recalls immediately show up on plaintiff attorney’s websites with the line have you been hurt using/wearing this product “call us.”

In this case, the plaintiff purchased a bicycle helmet from the defendant retailer. The bicycle helmet was subject to a recall prior to the plaintiff’s crash. The plaintiff exchanged the helmet for a newer one due to the recall, prior to her crash. The plaintiff fell while riding her bike suffering head and other injuries and sued.

The first defendant was a retailer in New York. The retailer purchased the helmet from a distributor in Texas. The distributor imported the helmet from the manufacturer, a Spanish corporation. All three, the manufacturer, distributor and retailer were defendants to the litigation. All three were in the chain of sale from the manufacturer to the consumer.

The theory behind allowing suits against everyone involved in the litigation is anyone in the chain could have spotted the defect and prevented the consumer from purchasing a defective product. That was a great theory when wagon wheels were being sold. Everyone understood wagon wheels and could see a flaw or defect in a wagon wheel before the consumer purchased the wheel.

That general theory does not work any longer in software, computers or in this case a bike helmet. If you could understand the physics and engineering behind the creation of the helmet, you could not see the defects in many cases because the defects are covered by plastic.

The suit was filed in Michigan the home state of the plaintiff in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division. Federal courts are the courts in place to deal with litigation between parties from different states or of the US and another country. The federal courts are not subject to the issue of “hometowning” or deciding a case solely on the issue of where the parties live the courts’ hometown.

The three defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted.

Federal District Court decisions are reported. Very few states report trial court decisions. However, this is different in the federal system, and we have an interesting case.

Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.

The plaintiff dismissed its negligence and gross negligence claims and proceeded on its breach of warranty claims prior to this motion. The plaintiff stated there was no express warranty claim, only a breach of implied warranty. Implied warranties are warranties that attach to any sale. They are not written down on in the manual, they occur whenever there is a sale. Implied warranty of merchantability and implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose are warranties that go with every sale and are the two main claims in lawsuits.

These warranties are not in writing and unless disclaimed, they go with any sale. The first, warranty of merchantability means the product meets the requirements of the industry where they are sold. The implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose is a warranty that the promises made by the sellers will be met by the product. For more information on these warranties see The legal relationship created between manufactures and US consumers.

No specific warranty was mentioned in the decision other than the warranty of fitness and merchantability. There were also allegations that there was a breach of warranty under Michigan’s law, which may be the same or different from the warranties explained above.

The plaintiff’s case was based on the recall. The CPSC required recall “poster” which was entered into evidence as proof of the recall and the defect. The plaintiff also had an expert who opined that plaintiff’s head injury “directly related to the inadequacies of the Catlike Kompact bike helmet.”

No other evidence was introduced. The expert’s opinion was not specific, and did not provide any cause for the injury or the failure of the helmet. The court held that because there was no analysis of the crash, speed, location of impact or details of the accident that the expert’s opinion was of no value.

As discussed at oral argument, plaintiff has not brought forth any evidence of the reason the Catlike Kompact helmet failed impact testing. All that has been presented is a one-page press release from the CPSC, set forth above, including a statement that “[t]he helmets fail impact testing required un-der CPSC’s safety standard for bicycle helmets, violating the Consumer Product Safety Act.” Without additional information from the CPSC or any other source, or the results of any independent testing, it is the opinion of the court that Dr. Kress’ statement that “[t]he severity of the head injury sustained by Ms. Jenish is a direct result of the inability of the Catlike Kompact to comply to the CPSC’s safety standards” can be nothing but inadmissible speculation.

Although warranty claims require very little evidence to prove, in this case, no evidence was presented that the court could rely upon to uphold the claims of the plaintiff. The court granted the three defendants motion and dismissed the case.

So Now What?

This case has little value in teaching about helmet crashes, and the liability issues involved in manufacturing helmets. What it does teach is the unintended consequence of dealing with a recall and the CPSC.  

It is impossible, probably, now days to create a product that will never have a recall. However, that does not mean you should try. As important, if you are looking at a recall, make sure you fully understand the consequences and work with counsel to lessen the impacts of the recall on your company and the effects it may have.

You also must disclaim all warranties other than the warranties you want for your product. If the proper disclaimer had been part of the information going with the sale of the helmet than this case would not have gone this far.

It is common for many products in the outdoor recreation industry to be brought into the US without the proper warranties and disclaimers. Additionally, many times when translated a product manual the word warranty will be translated into the word guaranty in English, which creates even greater liability issues.

 

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Jenish v. Monarch Velo Llc dba Catlike USA, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34120; CCH Prod. Liab. Rep. P17,754 (E.D. Mich. S.D. 2007)

Jenish v. Monarch Velo Llc dba Catlike USA, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34120; CCH Prod. Liab. Rep. P17,754 (E.D. Mich. S.D. 2007)

Tracy Ann Jenish, Plaintiff, vs. Monarch Velo Llc dba Catlike USA, a Texas Corporation, The Kreb Cycle, a New York Corporation, and Catlike Sport Components SL, a Spanish Corporation, Defendants.

Case No. 05-CV-73648

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN, SOUTHERN DIVISION

2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34120; CCH Prod. Liab. Rep. P17,754

May 9, 2007, Decided

May 9, 2007, Filed

CORE TERMS: helmet, catlike, bicycle, safety standard, summary judgment, head injuries, consumer, warranty, material fact, brain, acceleration, testing, seller, bike, Bicycle Helmets Final Rule, entitled to judgment, traumatic, hematoma, usa, Consumer Product Safety Act, matter of law, genuine issue, implied warranty, proximate cause, manufactured, manufacturer, distributor, attenuation, deposition, violating

COUNSEL: [*1] For Tracy Ann Jenish, Plaintiff: Lawrence S. Katkowsky, LEAD ATTORNEY, Lawrence S. Katkowsky Assoc., Bingham Farms, MI.

For Kreb Cycle, Defendant: Matthew A. Brauer, LEAD ATTORNEY, Rutledge, Manion, (Detroit), Detroit, MI.

JUDGES: GEORGE CARAM STEEH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

OPINION BY: GEORGE CARAM STEEH

OPINION

OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT THE KREB CYCLE’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOCUMENT # 38)

INTRODUCTION

Before the court in this product liability lawsuit is a motion for summary judgment brought by defendant The Kreb Cycle, a New York seller of bicycle equipment, in which it asserts it is entitled to judgment on all counts in the complaint. 1 Because the court agrees that plaintiff has not raised a question of material fact as to causation of her injuries by an allegedly defective bicycle helmet, defendant’s motion is granted as set forth below.

1 The other defendants to this action have not filed answers to the complaint.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Tracy Jenish was riding with a bicycling [*2] club on Wing Lake Road in the area of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan on September 26, 2002, when she fell off her bike and suffered serious bodily injuries, including injuries to her head. She was wearing a helmet called a “Catlike Kompact,” manufactured by defendant Catlike Sport Components SL, a Spanish corporation, distributed by defendant Monarch Velo LLC, a Texas corporation 2, and sold to the plaintiff by movant-defendant Kreb Cycle, a New York corporation.

2 Answers to the complaint by the remaining defendants have not been filed, and defendant Kreb Cycle states in its motion that the other defendants are in default. The docket reflects that a clerk’s entry of default was filed as to defendant Monarch Velo, L.L.C. on June 2, 2006.

The Kreb Cycle (hereinafter “defendant”) started carrying these helmets after its owner attended a trade show in Las Vegas, where a model of the Catlike Kompact helmet was on display. Defendant ordered the helmets from Monarch Velo LLC, d/b/a “Catlike USA,” a Texas distributor. [*3] The helmets came with the manufacturer’s label stating they complied with U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”) standards. Although there are no records of the sale, defendant does not dispute that it sold the helmet to plaintiff. Plaintiff’s recollection, according to her deposition, is that she called in with a credit card or ordered it online, at some point during the year preceding the accident.

In 2003, some months after plaintiff’s accident, the Catlike Kompact helmet was the subject of a voluntary manufacturer recall. Defendant has produced a copy of the CPSC’s announcement of this recall, which is reproduced below in its entirety, with the exception of the generic CPSC headings and contact numbers:

*****

CPSC, Monarch Velo, LLC doing business as Catlike USA Announce Recall of Bike Helmets

Washington, D.C. — The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announces the following recall in voluntary cooperation with the firm below. Consumers should stop using recalled products immediately unless otherwise instructed.

Name of product: Catlike Kompact TM Bike Helmets

Units: 2,250

Distributor: Monarch Velo, LLC, doing business [*4] as Catlike USA, of Houston, Texas

Hazard: The helmets fail impact testing required under CPSC’s safety standard for bicycle helmets, violating the Consumer Product Safety Act.

Incidents/Injuries: None reported.

Description: This recall involves Catlike Kompact TM adult bicycle helmets. The helmets were sold in two sizes (small/medium and large/extra large) and various colors. The sizing label inside the helmets reads “Kompact” and “SM/MD” or “LG/XL.”

Sold at: Bicycle shops nationwide sold the helmets from March 2002 through February 2003 for about $ 130.

Manufactured in: Spain

Remedy: Contact Monarch Velo for information on receiving a free replacement helmet.

Consumer Contact: Contact Monarch Velo toll-free at (877) 228-5646 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. CT Monday through Friday or visit the firm’s web site at http://www.catlike-usa.com

Media Contact: Chris Watson at (877) 228-5646.

Exhibit D to Defendant’s Motion. Plaintiff obtained a replacement Catlike helmet after announcement of the recall.

This action was filed in federal court on the basis of diversity of citizenship in September 2005. [*5] Plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint, filed September 29, 2005, makes a common claim against all three defendants, asserting negligence, gross negligence, and breach of warranty in the design, manufacture, and distribution of an unmerchantable, “untested” bicycle helmet that failed to protect against injury to the head.

STANDARD FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) empowers the court to render summary judgment “forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” See Redding v. St. Eward, 241 F.3d 530, 532 (6th Cir. 2001). The Supreme Court has affirmed the court’s use of summary judgment as an integral part of the fair and efficient administration of justice. The procedure is not a disfavored procedural shortcut. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986); see also Cox v. Kentucky Dept. of Transp., 53 F.3d 146, 149 (6th Cir. 1995).

The [*6] standard for determining whether summary judgment is appropriate is “‘whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.'” Amway Distributors Benefits Ass’n v. Northfield Ins. Co., 323 F.3d 386, 390 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986)). The evidence and all reasonable inferences therefrom must be construed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986); Redding, 241 F.3d at 532 (6th Cir. 2001). “[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986) (emphasis in original); see also National Satellite Sports, Inc. v. Eliadis, Inc., 253 F.3d 900, 907 (6th Cir. 2001). [*7]

If the movant establishes by use of the material specified in Rule 56(c) that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, the opposing party must come forward with “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” First Nat’l Bank v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 270, 88 S. Ct. 1575, 20 L. Ed. 2d 569 (1968); see also McLean v. 988011 Ontario, Ltd., 224 F.3d 797, 800 (6th Cir. 2000). Mere allegations or denials in the non-movant’s pleadings will not meet this burden, nor will a mere scintilla of evidence supporting the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 252. Rather, there must be evidence on which a jury could reasonably find for the non-movant. McLean, 224 F.3d at 800 (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).

ANALYSIS

Kreb Cycle asserts in its motion that it is entitled to judgment as to all three of plaintiff’s claims: negligence, gross negligence, and breach of warranty. In response, plaintiff asserts it is “only relying on the implied warranty of fitness and merchantability as to this Defendant and will not, therefore, respond to [*8] Defendant’s arguments as to negligence and gross negligence.” Accordingly, judgment is hereby granted for Kreb Cycle as to plaintiff’s negligence and gross negligence claims.

The sole claim remaining as to this defendant is plaintiff’s breach of warranty claim. Plaintiff concedes defendant made no express warranty regarding this helmet. Accordingly, proceeding on a cause of action for breach of an implied warranty, plaintiff asserts that she has established a prima facie case of breach of implied warranty under Michigan law, 3 citing to this court’s case of Konstantinov v. Findlay Ford Lincoln Mercury, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 85836, 2006 WL 3299487. As set forth in that case, under the Michigan Tort Reform Act, effective in 1996,

(6) In a product liability action, a seller other than a manufacturer is not liable for harm allegedly caused by the product unless either of the following is true:

(a) The seller failed to exercise reasonable care, including breach of any implied warranty, with respect to the product and that failure was a proximate cause of the person’s injuries.

(b) The seller made an express warranty as to the product, the product failed to conform to the warranty, and the [*9] failure to conform to the warranty was a proximate cause of the person’s harm.

Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 600.2947(6).

3 Although the retailer was a New York seller, neither party asserts applicable law other than that of Michigan.

Defendant’s argument for summary judgment on this claim is that plaintiff has not come forward with any evidence of a specific defect in the helmet, and has not drawn any kind of causal connection between the alleged defect and her head injuries. It cites to Mascarenas v. Union Carbide, 196 Mich. App. 240, 249, 492 N.W.2d 512 (1992) for the elements of a product liability case under Michigan law: proof that the defendant supplied a defective product, and that the defect proximately caused the plaintiff’s injury. Defendant argues that plaintiff relies only on the helmet’s later recall, disclosed in a 5/22/03 CPSC press release (stating that the recall was occurring “in voluntary cooperation with” the U.S. distributor) and conclusory statements [*10] by an expert, neither of which establish a question of material fact as to proximate cause. 4

4 Defendant also addresses plaintiff’s weak assertion, in answers to interrogatories, that defendant “had a duty to determine whether the model helmet in question did in fact meet CPSC standards.” As defendant argues, there is no such duty required by Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 600.2947(6), set forth above.

The court agrees with the defendant. Although precedent such as Mills v. Curioni, Inc., 238 F. Supp. 2d 876, 886 (E.D. Mich. 2002) and the very recent decision in Coleman v. Maxwell Shoe Co., 475 F. Supp. 2d 685, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11513, 2007 WL 551608 (E.D. Mich. 2007) lend support to defendant’s argument concerning non-manufacturing sellers and the need for a showing of negligence in failing to detect a product’s defect, this case must be dismissed whether or not such evidence is required.

Plaintiff’s expert’s initial report, created by Tyler A. Kress, Ph.D. in Knoxville, Tennessee, dated [*11] October 6, 2006, summarily lists plaintiff’s injuries following the accident. It then lists all of the expert’s qualifications, his fees, and the records he reviewed. These are a 9/26/2002 CT scan of plaintiff’s head; the hospital’s discharge summary; a letter of April 3, 2003 by a Jon Wardner, M.D. stating plaintiff’s disability; the CPSC announcement of the helmet recall; and the plaintiff’s deposition. Dr. Kress also states that he met with the plaintiff. The remainder (and the entire substance) of his letter/report stated only a conclusion that a “defect” of the helmet was “directly related to the inadequacies of the Catlike Kompact bike helmet.”

Defendant then brought a motion, granted by the magistrate, for sanctions and to require a supplemental report by November 15, 2006, containing a “complete statement of all opinions to be expressed and the basis and reasons therefor…” A supplemental report was subsequently created by Dr. Kress. That report, dated November 15, 2006, is set forth below in its entirety:

Dear Mr. Katkowsky:

This is to supplement my report of October 6, 2006, regarding the above-styled cause.

1) Use: It is my opinion that it is foreseeable [*12] that some consumers will sustain a preventable head injury due to the impact performance (or lack thereof) of the helmet while using it in an appropriate manner as it is intended to be used.

Protective head gear and bicycle helmets have the ability to eliminate or greatly reduce traumatic head and brain injury when properly designed an manufactured. To ensure that bicycle helmets available in the consumer market adequately serve these goals, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has created safety standards for a range of criterion, including impact attenuation (CPSC’s Safety Standard for Bicycle Helmets Final Rule: 16 CFR Part 1203).

Bicycle helmets that have adequate impact attenuation performance, as set forth by the CPSC’s safety standards, and are used in an appropriate, reasonable, and correct manner are highly successful in preventing or greatly reducing traumatic head and brain injury. As found in a 1989 study by Thompson et al and explicitly cited in the CPSC’s Safety Standard for Bicycle Helmets Final Rule (16 CFR Part 1203, pg. 11713), riders with helmets had an 85% reduction in head injury risk, and 88% reduction in brain injury risk.

2) Reason for Injury: [*13] Ms. Jenish’s head injury is directly related to the inadequacies of the Catlike Kompact bike helmet.

The CPSC’s Safety Standard for Bicycle Helmets Final Rule (16 CFR Part 1203) explicitly establishes a performance test to “ensure that helmets will adequately protect the head in a collision” (pg. 11714). As a component of this performance test, helmets are required to not exceed a peak headform acceleration of 300 g for any impact. This pass/fail criterion of 300g or below is consistent with other standards such as the ANSI, Snell, and ASTM (CPSC’s Safety Standard for Bicycle Helmets Final Rule (16 CFR Part 1203, pg. 11714; Halstead 2001). The Catlike Kompact bike helmet is inadequate due to the fact that it failed impact standards that pertain to the design and performance of the helmet in a foreseeable use that may result in an impact to the head.

In the accident on September 26, 2002, Ms. Jenish hit a curb while riding her bicycle, was ejected, and impacted her head. She reported a loss of consciousness at the scene, and her relevant injuries include, but are not limited to, a traumatic brain injury and a subdural hematoma. Ms. Jenish sustained a direct impact to the back [*14] of the head (occipital region) which corresponds to a right occipatal scalp hematoma and the area of impact and failure seen in the helmet. Contact head impacts, such as this, result in predominantly linear acceleration of the head and brain, with small components of angular acceleration. Linear acceleration can product focal brain injuries, such as subdural hematomas, as well as concussions; as seen in Ms. Jenish.

The severity of the head injury sustained by Ms. Jenish is a direct result of the inability of the Catlike Kompact to comply to the CPSC’s safety standards. Subdural hematomas, similar to the one sustained by Ms. Jenish, are commonly caused by an impact to the occipital region (Kleiven 2003, Zhou et al 1995). The acceleration of the head in an occipital impact exceeded the values of what a reasonably designed and protective headgear would have given the wearer. Due to the failure of the Catlike Kompact bicycle helmet to comply to the CPSC’s impact safety standards Ms. Jenish’s head experienced higher acceleration values resulting in a more serious traumatic brain injury than would have been experienced if the helmet was compliant with the impact standards of the CPSC. [*15]

3) Design Defect: The helmet is inherently dangerous and defective by design in that it fails to comply with impact testing standards required under CPSC’s safety standard for bicycle helmets, violating the Consumer Product Safety Act.

The impact attenuation standards of the CPSC’s Safety Standard for Bicycle Helmets Final Rule (16 CFR Part 1203) was created in order to “ensure that helmets will adequately protect the head in a collision” (p. 11714). Failure to meet this standard endangers consumers by failing to prevent or reduce injury.

If you have any questions or need anything further please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,

/s/

Tyler Kress, Ph.D., CIE

Exhibit I to Defendant’s Motion and Exhibit 2 to Plaintiff’s Response.

Defendant contends that all this report arguably establishes is that the helmet failed to “meet standards;” and that plaintiff has failed to connect that alleged, undefined defect to her injuries. As defendant asserts, there is no evaluation of items such as plaintiff’s speed at the time of the crash, location of impact, descriptive information concerning the object struck or other details of the accident. Defendant [*16] points to the serious injuries sustained by the plaintiff in the crash, including fractured vertebrae, a crushed rib cage, fractured collarbone, bulging spinal discs, and a collapsed lung, and asserts that helmets don’t rule out any and all head injuries, in any crash or at any speed, but serve to help protect against head injuries. Plaintiff has not identified the manufacturing or design elements of the helmet that led to voluntary recall nor has accident reconstruction tied these elements to the plaintiff’s injuries.

As discussed at oral argument, plaintiff has not brought forth any evidence of the reason the Catlike Kompact helmet failed impact testing. 5 All that has been presented is a one page press release from the CPSC, set forth above, including a statement that “[t]he helmets fail impact testing required under CPSC’s safety standard for bicycle helmets, violating the Consumer Product Safety Act.” Without additional information from the CPSC or any other source, or the results of any independent testing, it is the opinion of the court that Dr. Kress’ statement that “[t]he severity of the head injury sustained by Ms. Jenish is a direct result of the inability [*17] of the Catlike Kompact to comply to the CPSC’s safety standards” can be nothing but inadmissible speculation. Accordingly, it is the court’s determination that plaintiff has not produced evidence to raise a question of material fact regarding causation. Defendant’s motion will be granted.

5 Plaintiff has failed to identify any specific claimed defect, such as deficiencies in the suspension or cushioning system, hardness or thickness of the plastic, ventilation engineering, overall shape, the strapping mechanism, or any other particular aspects of the helmets in general, much less the helmet worn by plaintiff. Without knowing the defect that motivated a voluntary recall, and without testing of the helmet worn by plaintiff, it is impossible to conclude that a defect caused her injury.

CONCLUSION

Because plaintiff has failed to raise a question of material fact as to the proximate causation of her head injuries by an alleged defect in her bicycle helmet, summary judgment will enter as to all claims brought [*18] by the plaintiff against this defendant.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

Dated: May 9, 2007

S/ George Caram Steeh

UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE


The legal relationship created between manufactures and US consumers

An Overview of the legal relationship created between manufactures and US consumers.

This is a quick memo to simply outline the legal issues encountered by foreign corporations selling in the US Market. This memo will touch on the following issues:

Agency

An agent legally represents the manufacture. From a legal standpoint the agent stands in the shoes of the manufacture. An agent speaks and acts for the principal, the manufacture. As such the manufacture is liable for anything the agent says or does while representing the manufacture until the agency is terminated and that termination is communicated to interested third party consumers.

An agency relationship exists when a principal (in this case the manufacture or distributor) creates a legal relationship with a third party for the third party to represent the principal. In this case the third party is a retailer of products or an independent contractor sales representative. This relationship can be by contract (oral or written) or by actions on the part of either party (I’ll pay you if you do that).

An agency can be created without a legal relationship. Agency by Estoppel is created when third parties or consumers believe that one party has vested rights or an agency in another based on the actions of the principal. If a sales rep says he works for a manufacture and the manufacture does nothing to terminate the relationship or refine the relationship in the minds of the consumer or the shop then the agency does in fact exist. The parameters of the relationship are as defined by the consumer as reasonably interpreted from the actions of the agent. Failure to stop or disclaim the agency confirms the agency.

This places a tremendous burden on manufactures to create a relationship with agents that is within the parameters and/or restrictions the manufacture wants and then to insist the agent work within those parameters. However, if the manufacture does nothing to enforce the parameters or knows the agent is working outside of the parameters the manufacture will be held liable for the acts of the agent.

A good contract outlining the relationship is necessary for most independent contractor’s representative and required by seventeen (17) states.

Agency by law is another type of agency that is created. These are actions that the courts have interpreted over time to be agency relationships. A specific example in this case is again the manufacture and the distributor or the manufacture and the rep. Courts have determined that for the distributor or rep to do their jobs there is an agency relationship for the agent to act for the manufacture. Agency by law then is interpreted to mean the agent has the basic responsibility to act on behalf of the manufacture.

This places a burden on manufactures to do two things. (1) Hire agents who will understand and respect the agency relationship as defined by the manufacture. That then requires a well written contract that gives the agent freedom to do their job and at the same time reserves the rights and powers that the manufacture wishes to retain. (2) To act quickly when the manufacture sees someone acting outside of the defined relationship or a third party who is acting like an agent.

These place tremendous burdens on the manufacture. However the burdens were created to prevent the consumer, who has little or no way of checking on the relationship from getting ripped off.

Specifically a sales rep is the same as a bike shop, both are selling for the manufacture and the public can rely on both in the same way.

Warranties

A warranty is created every time there is a sale. Most warranties in the US are defined in the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) and in a few cases state and federal laws. Specific Federal laws may affect the sale of certain items such as the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act which covers warranties on automobiles.

In every sale the UCC states that there is a Warranty of Fitness and a Warranty for a Particular Purpose (UCC – ARTICLE 2 -§2-314 & 315).

§ 2-314. Implied Warranty: Merchantability; Usage of Trade.

(1) Unless excluded or modified (Section 2-316), a warranty that the goods shall be merchantable is implied in a contract for their sale if the seller is a merchant with respect to goods of that kind. Under this section the serving for value of food or drink to be consumed either on the premises or elsewhere is a sale.

(2) Goods to be merchantable must be at least such as

(a) pass without objection in the trade under the contract description; and

(b) in the case of fungible goods, are of fair average quality within the description; and

(c) are fit for the ordinary purposes for which such goods are used; and

(d) run, within the variations permitted by the agreement, of even kind, quality and quantity within each unit and among all units involved; and

(e) are adequately contained, packaged, and labeled as the agreement may require; and

(f) conform to the promise or affirmations of fact made on the container or label if any.

§ 2-315. Implied Warranty: Fitness for Particular Purpose.

Where the seller at the time of contracting has reason to know any particular purpose for which the goods are required and that the buyer is relying on the seller’s skill or judgment to select or furnish suitable goods, there is unless excluded or modified under the next section an implied warranty that the goods shall be fit for such purpose.

As innocent as these warranties appear, they are the basis for product liability lawsuits and can be used to void more limiting warranties. However both of these warranties can be voided.

An example of the problem would be a camming device. The salesman states the camming device will work “no matter what.” The user drags the device through the mud so it is just caked and won’t work properly. The consumer uses the device, it fails because of the mud and the consumer is injured. The consumer could sue for their injuries under a breach of warranty theory because the device did not live up to the reason why it was purchased. This is a breach of the fitness for a particular purpose warranty.

Another example of the problem would be selling a bicycle. The salesman states the bicycle will be easy to ride. The new owner has never used a derailleur shifted gears on a bicycle and constantly has trouble shifting the gears. During one attempt to change gears the consumer hits a sewer grate suffering serious injuries. The consumer could sue for their injuries under a breach of warranty theory because the device did not live up to the reason why it was purchased. This is a breach of the fitness for a particular purpose warranty.

There is an out in the law that allows a manufacture to argue that the statements were salesman’s “puffing.” That means the statements that a salesman makes to sell a product that may be over the top. However because the warranty was not properly disclaimed the salesman’s puffing is not a valid defense. This may be in addition to any claim for basic product liability issues.

State Consumer Protection Laws

Each state has enacted a serious of Consumer Protection Laws. These laws are designed to “level the playing field” between consumers and large manufactures. Although the specifics may vary for each state in general the laws lower the threshold needed to prove a case against the manufacture and increase the damages for the consumer. In some cases damages are trebled, with interest costs and attorney fees being added to the damages.

Another disadvantage for manufactures is the manufacture can be forced to defend the action in the consumer’s state if products are sold in that state.

Colorado’s Consumer Protection Act, C.R.S. §§ 6-1-105 et seq has the following sections that would be of interest.

(1) A person engages in a deceptive trade practice when, in the course of such person’s business, vocation, or occupation, such person:

(d) Uses deceptive representations or designations of geographic origin in connection with goods or services;

(r) Advertises or otherwise represents that goods or services are guaranteed without clearly and conspicuously disclosing the nature and extent of the guarantee, any material conditions or limitations in the guarantee which are imposed by the guarantor, the manner in which the guarantor will perform, and the identity of such guarantor. Any representation that goods or services are “guaranteed for life” or have a “lifetime guarantee” shall contain, in addition to the other requirements of this paragraph (r), a conspicuous disclosure of the meaning of “life” or “lifetime” as used in such representation (whether that of the purchaser, the goods or services, or otherwise). Guarantees shall not be used which under normal conditions could not be practically fulfilled or which are for such a period of time or are otherwise of such a nature as to have the capacity and tendency of misleading purchasers or prospective purchasers into believing that the goods or services so guaranteed have a greater degree of serviceability, durability, or performance capability in actual use than is true in fact. The provisions of this paragraph (r) apply not only to guarantees but also to warranties, to disclaimer of warranties, to purported guarantees and warranties, and to any promise or representation in the nature of a guarantee or warranty; however, such provisions do not apply to any reference to a guarantee in a slogan or advertisement so long as there is no guarantee or warranty of specific merchandise or other property.

(3) The deceptive trade practices listed in this section are in addition to and do not limit the types of unfair trade practices actionable at common law or under other statutes of this state.

Colorado’s statute allows the judge to award treble damages, interest and attorney fees if the consumer is successful in the suit. C.R.S. 6-1-113. §§ Damages

Here again the warranties come into play. If the consumer can prove the warranties are not disclaimed and the claim falls within the deceptive trade practices act or a common claim for deceptive trade practices, the damages for the warranty claim are increased.

European Union certifications & the US

Many manufactures from Europe or Asia believe that meeting standards for manufacturing products in Europe is all that is needed to sell in the US. That is correct. However those standards provide no defense in a US Court against product liability claims.

Product liability lawsuits are lawsuits against the manufacture and all entities in the chain of the sale. A product liability action can be brought against the bicycle shop, the distributor and the manufacture of a product. There are three basic product liability claims.

  • Defective manufacture
  • Defective Design
  • Failure to warn

Defective manufacture claims are usually brought when only one product fails because there was a flaw in the manufacturing process for that product. The flaw caused an injury to the consumer using the product.

Defective design is usually the claim made when all of a type of product fails causing injury. A defective design claim can be brought at any time during the useful life of a product. This claim is brought when all of the products of a design fail for the same reason. The design flaw can either be based on the product breaking causing injury or the design preventing the product from working as advertised or as used by consumers.

The most difficult claim to defend is a failure to warn. This claim has two parts. Failure to warn at the time of the purchase and failure to warn of new issues the manufacture learns about. Failure to warn claims are the basics for information and warning labels that are not written in a manner to adequately inform the consumer of the risks of using the product.

Failure to warn claims that arise after time are usually a result of several Defective manufacture claims. Once a manufacture knows of problems in the way a product is being used OR that a product is being used incorrectly, the manufacture MUST warn all users of the problem. This type of claim in practice is similar to a product recall. However a product recall is done before an injury occurs. A failure to warn claim is the lawsuit brought after a recall.

The running of a warranty period does not end product liability claims.

Jurisdiction and Venue

Foreign manufacture believe that by setting up a US distributor, any lawsuit can only be brought against the US distributor and not the parent company in Europe. That is not true. US law allows a lawsuit against the end manufacture, wherever that manufacture is located if the manufacture entered the product in the stream of commerce in the state where the injury occurred or where the consumer lives. Proof of entering into the stream of commerce is a combination of factors: employees or agents living or working in the state; advertising in the state; contracting with retailers to sell the product in the state; advertising at events in the state are a few examples used to prove the manufacture entered the stream of commerce in a particular state.

In some cases, a manufacture can limit suits to just a few states with proper venue and jurisdiction clauses in their information to the consumer; however this is not always successful and will not work in all states. Either way, a foreign manufacture will be brought into the US to defend a product liability claim.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2010 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law, Recreaton.Law@Gmail.com

© 2010 James H. Moss

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