Update (April 30, 2013): In the dead of this past winter, Minnesota Litigator posted the note below on the decades long effort by preeminent Twin Cities personal injury lawyer, Terry Wade, to hold bike component manufacturers liable for punitive damages for a certain bike design that did not provide known design features to mitigate risk from improper use (“tabbed tips,” known as “lawyers’ lips” because they are a design feature owed to the risk of tort liability if absent). Wade lost in his renewed effort to bring a claim for punitive damages, this time against Trek. The take-away: “Quick-release” devices can mean that bike wheels can be quickly released. Be careful!
This week, Minneapolis hosts the U.S. Transportation Department Midwest Bike Safety Summit. Minneapolis was chosen apparently because bike-riding is way up and bike deaths are not. Maybe laws could be bulked up to make bike-riding even safer? Then again, maybe not.
Original Post (January 2013): (Under Subject line: “Introducing…TENACIOUS P!” — “Tenacious D” is the mock-rock group led by comedian/musician (using the latter term loosely) Jack Black. Minnesota Litigator hereby dubs well-known and highly successful plaintiff’s Robins Kaplan personal injury lawyer, Terry Wade, “Tenacious P” (for plaintiff’s lawyer, that is).
In 1990, representing an injured plaintiff from a quick-release bicycle hub “front wheel off” case, the Minnesota Court of Appeals rejected Wade’s attempt to win punitive damages against the component manufacturer. Twenty-three years later and Wade is giving it another shot for another injured bike rider, this time against Wisconsin-based Trek.
The front wheel of John Sanny’s bike popped off his 1990 Trek 930 in late 2009 and Sanny, unfortunately, was badly injured when he “planted his face on the asphalt” (as stated in Wade’s brief submitted recently on Plaintiff’s behalf (which, incidentally, includes before and after photos)).
Pending before U.S. District Court Judge Ann D. Montgomery (D. Minn.) is Plaintiff’s motion to amend his complaint to add a claim for punitive damages against Trek. Plaintiff’s argument, in essence, is that quick-release (“QR”) bike hubs were known at the time of sale (that is, 1990) to present a risk of serious injury. And there was, at the time, technology to reduce that risk, “tabbed tips,” sometimes known as “lawyers’ lips” (because they are a design adjustment supposed by some to have been implemented to defeat products liability defective design lawsuits). But Trek, knowing that this technology existed, chose to forego it on this bike model, knowing that some would be seriously injured because of the absence of this secondary safety measure.
Trek, on the other hand, gives a spirited defense to its actions and its design decisions. Plaintiff’s own design expert, Trek points out, does not believe that Plaintiff has established the elements of a punitive damages claim.
It seems a stretch for Plaintiff Sanny to be allowed to make the case for punitive damages in his case against Trek from my perspective in light of precedents for the standard for bringing a punitive damages claim under Minnesota law. On the other hand, the law is not simple in its application so who knows?
Regardless, you have to give Tenacious P credit for taking another run at it twenty-two years after the last unsuccessful bid.