One of My First “Big” Bike Cases – Litigating Against Cannondale

A thread on a Facebook cycling page about Klein bikes reminded me of one of the early “big” bike cases I worked on … a 1980’s products liability case against Cannondale in Florida.
 
My client was an MD/neurologist. He and his wife, a PhD neuropsychologist, were huge cycling fans and would get the “first” of everything that came out in the bike world. They lived in a gorgeous home on the intercostal waterway near Fort Lauderdale, FL and had something like 28 bikes hanging on the walls of their home like sculpture.
 
She ordered him an aluminum frame bike from Cannondale right after they heard Cannondale was making them. She called the factory directly to place the order. He was a tall guy and the frame was … well…  a very large frame. This was before Cannondale figured out that they needed “fat” tubes- the big frame tubing was the same diameter as steel tubing of the day…
 
The bike was ridden a bit and spent a lot of time up on the wall. One day the doc took it down and took a ride. He got chased by a little red car around one of Florida’s traffic island/roundabouts. He saw an opening an ducked into it to try to get away from the car. Unfortunately, he hit a curb – and the head tube sheared off completely from the bike frame… The doc did a face plant into the pavement and suffered a brain injury which prevented him from practicing medicine.
 
I got a call here in Ohio from the doc’s wife down in Florida  on a Friday night and hopped a flight to FL Saturday morning. I brought two excellent FL product liability lawyers into the case and we worked it… and worked it… for several years. They did the heavy lifting, by far… I got to travel to CT & take the depositions of the Cannondale people. We retained a crash expert who analyzed what happened and a PhD metallurgist who examined a bit of the frame under an electron microscope & told us that the aluminum frame was improperly heat treated, causing weak spots right where the head tube snapped off. We heard that the defense spent $250K+ in experts. Our team spent well over $100K as well.
 
During the course of our case Cannondale issued a shop bulletin warning to all bike shops to be on the lookout for cracks in their frames… right in the area where our bike failed… so we figured we were clearly on the right track!
 
As the case moved along towards trial in FL we were able to fight off the defense attacks pretty effectively. However, they really seemed bent on taking the case to trial Then… our expert found a key video- from a completely different case – which really swayed the case towards settlement.
One theory of the defense was that when the doc hit the curb he was probably going to crash anyway, regardless of any defect in the bike frame – and he was likely suffer a head injury. In fact, the main crash reconstruction expert for the defense even developed a little video, showing a “stick man” on a “stick” bike… very primitive but hey it was 1980s technology…

However, our expert remembered that the main defense expert had been an expert in a Quick Release case some years earlier. In THAT case his job was defend the QR company in a case in which the QR came apart  or failed when a bike hit… a curb. To help do that the expert produced a video- in Super Slow Motion – which showed him riding a bike into a curb at different speeds…in each video the front fork flexes and the wheel hops up the curb… i.e., the QR didn’t “fail.”

In our case the expert had opined that it was “too dangerous” to have a human ride a bike into a curb [since their theory was that the crash/head injury was unavoidable.  Our expert was also in that old QR case –  for the other side –  and had the SloMo video buried in his files …one he found it we were able use that video to show that the defense theory of “oh he was going to crash anyway” was just BS… That video put the entire defense on the defensive as the credibility of their main expert was washed away…
 
Eventually we settled on the day of trial – literally on the Courthouse steps. Sadly, the doc passed away some years later as complications from his injuries caught up to him…
 
Part of my research in that case involved learning about aluminum and heat treatment processes. To that end I enjoyed having a long conversation with Gary Klein one afternoon as he had developed a process, and ended up in litigation with Cannondale over it…
https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/appellate-courts/F2/884/1399/464210/
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