Putting the Brakes on Bike Class Action

Because of their anti-climactic nature, defense verdicts don’t usually get much attention. But when the stakes are high, a defense verdict is a big win. Attorneys at Gordon & Rees and S.F.’s Phillips, Spallas & Angstadt appeared to get such a win last week against nine young bicyclists in Marin County Superior Court.

S.F. plaintiff attorney Mark Webb had sued Wal-Mart, San Rafael bicycle maker Dynacraft BSC, and insurance adjuster Carl Warren & Co. They were accused of marketing bicycles with faulty quick-release mechanisms, causing the front wheels to fall off and kids to smash their faces into the pavement.

The suit garnered substantial press attention, including a prominent story in the Sunday Chronicle which noted that Webb intended to present photographic evidence of “children ranging in age from 7 to 13 with gruesome, debilitating head wounds and gashes on the face.” The Chronicle story also noted that the Consumer Product Safety Commission had previously fined Dynacraft $1.4 million for other defective bike parts (though not the quick-release mechanism).

Webb asked for $8 million in compensatory damages, plus punitive damages. 

But Phillips, Spallas’ Robert Phillips, who represented Wal-Mart, and Gordon & Rees’ Fletcher Alford, who represented Dynacraft and Carl Warren, persuaded the jury after an eight-week trial that the quick-release mechanisms were not defective.

“For us, the evidence that this was a defect was very, very thin,” juror Fred Reppun told the Marin Independent Journal. “It was the consensus pretty much right off.”

— Scott Graham

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