Carey vs. Harley-Davidson Motor Corporation LLC

Mark Kircher of Quarles & Brady and Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell Skip Eubanks and won a defense verdict on behalf of Harley-Davidson in a product liability case in the Circuit Court of Mobile County, Alabama. The claims against Harley-Davidson relate to the fact that, in model year 2012, Harley-Davidson offered anti-lock brakes (ABS) as optional equipment on some of its models including the 2012 Dyna Wide Glide. Plaintiff Benjamin Carey purchased a 2012 Wide Glide from Mississippi Coast H-D in December of 2011 and did not purchase the optional ABS. One year later while riding the bike at 11:20 at night, a car driven by the co-defendant Martrell Dees made a left turn into a neighborhood in his path. There was no collision. Mr. Carey, who had no formal motorcycle training, swerved and over applied his brakes causing the bike to skid and ultimately capsize resulting in fatal head injuries.

Mrs. Carey filed suit alleging that the 2012 Dyna Wide Glide was defective and unreasonably dangerous under the Alabama Extended Manufacturers Liability Doctrine (AEMLD) because it did not have ABS as a standard feature, that H-D was negligent for selling a defective bike without ABS, and that H-D was guilty of wanton misconduct by consciously disregarding safety of its customers in offering ABS as an option rather than standard equipment on all models. Plaintiff alleged that studies by foreign researchers, as well as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, provided data that demonstrated some safety benefits; therefore, ABS should be on all street motorcycles. Plaintiff also sued the selling dealer for negligence and wantonness, as well as the driver of the car.

Harley-Davidson denied all the allegations and presented evidence that the 2012 Wide Glide foundation brakes were not defective without ABS, but rather were extremely capable. H-D presented evidence of its efforts in promoting ABS to its customers, and in proliferating ABS as both optional and standard throughout its product portfolio of motorcycles. There was proof that the vast majority of the motorcycles on the road in 2012 (~91%) did not have ABS, and that H-D’s conduct was reasonable and, in fact, extremely responsible through its ABS promotion and proliferation. There was compelling evidence that a significant segment of Harley-Davidson's customers did not wish to have ABS on their motorcycles for various reasons including: customization, strict maintenance requirements, and a desire not to have the increased complexity of a computer controlled braking system.

This case was one that challenged Harley-Davidson's fundamental values of American Freedom. Harley-Davidson's mission statement is “We Fulfill Dreams of Personal Freedom” and this lawsuit attacked those values. Harley-Davidson defended these values and the rights of its customers to make their own decisions as to what features are important to them.

At the close of the evidence a judgment as a matter of law was granted in favor of the dealer and the Plaintiff dropped all but the wantonness count against Harley-Davidson. During closing Plaintiff abandoned the claims against the driver of the car and a judgment was entered in his favor. The case went to the jury against only Harley-Davidson claiming wrongful death damages which in Alabama are purely punitive in nature. Plaintiffs request in closing was $150 million. The case went to the jury at 2:15 and the jury returned a complete defense verdict at 3:30
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