Motorcycle defects are commonly the subject of product liability claims. As with other motor vehicles, motorcycles can be the subject of a defect recall. This may occur if the motorcycle was designed or manufactured improperly or otherwise presents a danger to its owner.
Because of the many moving parts that make up a motorcycle, as well as the high-speeds at which they travel, there can be many different types of motorcycle defects. Some common defects include:
- Faulty brakes;
- Small fractures in the frame;
- Engines defects that can lead to unexpected stopping or stalling;
- Defects with the gas and accelerator mechanisms;
- Improper wheel alignment;
- Gas tank leaks that can lead to fires;
- Defects with hydraulic components;
- Suspension problems; and
- Defective wheel or tires that can lead to skidding.
An example of a large recall was the 2018 Harley-Davidson recall of almost 175,000 motorcycles because they carried a risk of brake failure. The recall campaign covered all models manufactured between 2008 and 2011 that were equipped with anti-lock brakes. More than 30 different models were affected.
The manufacturer, Harley-Davidson, recommended that the brake fluid be flushed every two years, and failure to adhere to this schedule resulted in the development of deposits which impaired the operation of a valve within the hydraulic brake control unit. This, in turn, could lead to brake malfunction, including complete brake failure.
Harley-Davidson dealers offered owners of the affected models a treatment of the brake system that would eliminate the problem. This involved flushing the brake systems of the affected models and then refilling them with a new, better brake fluid that was less likely to form the deposits that caused the problem.
What Are Motorcycle Recalls?
If a motorcycle has been found to be defective in any way, the manufacturer of the bike must issue a recall. A recall means that the motorcycle is taken off the market and can no longer be distributed to the public.
Motorcycle recalls are generally administered through the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). If the NHTSA orders a a manufacturer to conduct a recall, the manufacturer must issue a public report that describes the following:
- The affected motorcycle;
- The type of safety defect involved;
- Descriptions of the remedy for the problem;
- Whether events, such as frequent traffic accidents, prompted the recall; ;
- Scheduling for the recall process.
The NHTSA may require a recall because a manufacturer failed to comply with federal motorcycle safety standards. These recalls may be required even though no member of the public has been injured. Often the motorcycle manufacturer will directly communicate with people who purchased a recalled model about the defect as well.
What Are Some Remedies for Motorcycle Defects?
In most NHTSA recalls, the law requires the manufacturer to provide a remedy for the consumer. What usually happens is that the consumer can bring their motorcycle to the nearest sales or repair facility and have the vehicle repaired, free of charge. This is what occurred, for example, in the Harley-Davidson recall described above. If repairs cannot solve the problem, it is possible that an owner may be able to obtain a refund for their motorcycle.
In some cases, motorcycle defects can cause serious injury and even death. If the defect has caused injury to the owner, the owner may be able to file a lawsuit against the manufacturer for strict product liability. The owner would need to prove that a motorcycle had a defect, and the defect was the direct cause of their injuries and property damage.
To prevail with a strict product liability claim, a motorcycle owner who is harmed must prove that a defect in the product caused them injury. Specifically, they would have to prove that the product was inherently defective and that the defect in the product caused them to suffer injury or property damage.
If a defective motorcycle causes an accident in which people other than the driver of the motorcycle suffer injury or harm also, then they too could bring a lawsuit for strict product liability against the manufacturer and distributors of the motorcycle.
The are basically three ways in which a product, such as a motorcycle, can be defective as follows:
- Design Defects: A design defect is one that originates during the design phase of development of a new motorcycle. The product is designed in a way that makes it defective;
- Manufacturing Defects: A manufacturing defect arises during the production phase of a motorcycle. Something occurs while the product is being manufactured that results in an otherwise acceptable product having a defect;
- Marketing or Labeling Defects:
- Failure to Warn: This is a common defect. A product that poses a risk of harm is put on the market without the necessary warning labels. Appropriate labels or other informative material should alert users of products such as motorcycles of the dangers of using the product as well as precautions that can be taken to avoid them.
- Inadequate Use Directions: The manufacturer and distributors of a product are legally obligated to provide consumers with directions on how to use a product safely. A manufacturer or retailer can be held liable for injury or damage if they sell a product that does not come with the proper directions regarding its use;
- Misleading Advertisements: A company’s advertisements should accurately show the use that should be made of a product. Misleading advertising can be the basis for liability.
Any person injured by a defective motorcycle can recover compensatory damages of two kinds, economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages compensate for financial losses that result when a person has to repair damage to property or replace the property entirely, if the defective product caused property damage. Economic damages also cover the costs of an injured person’s medical treatment and income they lose because their injuries mean they must take time off work.
Medical bills would also include the cost of future treatment, if it can be shown that the injured person would need continuing medical care in the future. Hospital bills, doctors’ bills, prescription costs and the cost of physical therapy are all covered by economic damages.
People who earn their living by running a business may be able to recover damages to compensate them for their lost profits. As with medical bills, if an injured person has not recovered completely by the time of settlement or trial, and they can prove that they would have to take time off work in the future, they could recover damages related to future lost wages or profits.
Non-economic damages compensate for losses that are not easily expressed in a dollar amount. For example, they cover such items as:
Non-economic damages cover losses related to aspects of injury that are subjective, because they may be experienced differently by different people. Some states impose caps or limits on non-economic damages, because a jury may find it challenging to calculate the right amount for an award of non-economic damages.
If a motorcycle defect should cause the death of an owner, the owner’s survivors would sue the manufacturer and distributors for wrongful death. The theory of liability would still be strict product liability, or possibly negligence. In a wrongful death lawsuit, the survivors of an owner might recover damages to compensate them for such items as the following:
If multiple owners experience accidents with the same cause, their motorcycle defect lawsuits are filed as class action lawsuits.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Motorcycle Defect Claims?
Motorcycle defects are very serious, because they can cause serious injuries and even death, if they are not addressed. If you believe that your vehicle may be subject to a recall, or has a defect of some sort, you may want to consult an experienced defective products lawyer for advice.
Proving your case may require the help of expert engineers and others to prove that the product had a defect and that it caused the accident in your case. Your lawyer would know how to work with experts to prove your case. Your lawyer can represent you in settlement negotiations and in court as well, if you must file a lawsuit.