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Harley-Davidson denies liability for woman's traumatic injuries

Posted on in Motorcycle Accidents

A lawsuit blaming Harley-Davidson for the serious injuries a woman suffered in a central California motorcycle accident has reached a Superior Court jury, which must decide if the manufacturer will pay millions of dollars or nothing at all.

The accident happened in 2009 when a motorcyclist going 65 mph stopped suddenly for a traffic backup. His passenger, who is his now-estranged wife, was thrown 35 feet and suffered a traumatic brain injury from which she'll never fully recover. The driver told a California Highway Patrol trooper after the accident that his antilock brakes somehow malfunctioned.

At issue is not whether the brakes malfunctioned or even whether the bike was even equipped with an antilock brake system -- it wasn't. But an icon on the bike's tachometer indicates that it did have one, and a Harley-Davidson engineer testified that the manufacturer puts the icon on all of its bikes "to make sure that those bikes that did have ABS would definitely have the icon in." The owner of the bike and his wife also testified that the salesman who sold it to them told them it had ABS.

But the attorney representing Harley in the personal injury case denies that the dealership said the bike had ABS, and another Harley attorney said there's nothing unusual about having an ABS icon on a non-ABS bike. If the icon doesn't light up when the bike starts, anyone should assume it doesn't have ABS, the Harley attorney said, further explaining that requiring two different tachometer designs for ABS and non-ABS bikes would "bring the assembly line to a halt." Both lawyers also said the bike's owner should have known it didn't come with ABS after riding it for 15 months.

The primary defense attorney said the passenger, who now has a prosthetic skull, can't remember her children's names and has been rendered unemployable for the rest of her life, lied about her income on the credit application when the couple purchased the bike. He's accused her of continuing to lie in order to get rich, and that she and her attorney are exaggerating the extent of her injuries.

Closing arguments for the case ended Thursday. Now it's up to a jury to determine whether a design defect is to blame, and whether Harley should pay damages for the passenger's lifetime of injuries.

Source: Sacramento Bee, "Contentious motorcycle crash case heads to Sacramento jury," Andy Furillo, Dec. 16, 2011

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