In the 1990s, a spate of "defective" QR court cases resulted in the bike trade fitting ‘lawyers’ lips’ to front forks on some bikes, see Jobst Brandt comments below.
Were the parents in the current case – see links below – to win a victory against Wal-Mart and Dynacraft the floodgates of litigation could open once more, despite the likelihood of ‘pilot error’ in the overwhelming majority of QRs-threw-me-from-my-bike claims.
NOTE: this current case has nothing to do with the ‘Annan QR wheel ejection theory’. Do a site search on ‘Annan’ for articles on that topic.
Jurors will begin deliberations today in the civil trial regarding the sale of "allegedly defective bicycles" produced in China by Dynacraft of San Rafael for sale in Wal-Mart. Also on trial is the insurance adjustment firm that investigated the claims of nine sets of parents who said their children’s injuries were caused by the "defective bicycles".
Robert Phillips, Wal-Mart’s attorney told the jury that it was rider misuse or post-sale "mis-assembly" that caused the wheels to come off.
"Why isn’t human error the logical conclusion of this case?” he asked.
Mark Webb, the attorney for the nine families that filed the suit, said Wal-Mart, Dynacraft and insurance adjustor Carl Warren & Co. were "in cahoots.”
Earlier in the case, Webb had seemed to suggest all QRs are potentially defective:
"It ends up being, according to my metallurgist expert, a ticking time bomb, where in a matter of just days, weeks, months or years, that wheel has a very strong likelihood of coming loose."
Perhaps the metallurgist expert was unaware that QRs need to be used correctly and periodically checked?
The parents say they were never advised at the point of sale on how to do up these QR levers. If Wal-Mart can provide proof that all their boxed bikes ship with reference manuals that explain how to correctly tighten the levers, the jury may find in favour of the retailer, despite the photographs of the bloodied faces of children used by the parents to highlight their claim.
In his closing statement, Webb said the plaintiffs did not know the QRs had to be adjusted. Phillips for Wal-Mart said that doesn’t make them defective.
"If a person had testified that they had tightened a quick release correctly, it would be a defect," he said.
Webb said that Wal-Mart employees had discussed a pattern of problems with QRs in a meeting and that this proved the retailer knew consumers were not reading owners’ manuals. Webb said Wal-Mart did nothing to ensure that customers followed the instructions in any user manuals.
Webb said there were 118 previous complaints about the defective bikes and that Wal-Mart, Dynacraft and the insurance claims adjuster conspired to cover up the evidence. However, only eight of these complainants had joined in Webb’s lawsuit.
"It stops here with you,” Webb told the jury.
Many in the bike trade remain perplexed about the arguments used in this case. QRs are not inherently unsafe. They have been used since 1930 when introduced by Tullio Campagnolo.
Like any retention device, they require care and common-sense to operate properly. IBDs and other responsible retailers will make sure their customers are fully conversant with the proper operation of quick release mechanisms.
If Wal-Mart loses the case and is forced to pay millions of dollars in damages, the impact may or may not resonate outwards to the rest of the bike world but it might make big-box retailers fit their cheap bicycles with wheel retention devices well-known to non-bikie consumers: nuts and bolts.
The subject of QRs, the bike trade and lawsuits is covered at http://yarchive.net/bike/lawsuits.html
This is a series of usenet Q&As from bike expert Jobst Brandt.
In 2000, Brandt wrote:
"The expense of legal protection against suits, most of which are not what they appear to be, makes the bicycle business, race insurance, and restrictive rules an unfriendly burden on those of us who want to ride bike, rather than get rich on someone’s insurance. Having testified on many such cases for the industry, I found that expert witnesses for the plaintiff are either cleverly incompetent or prostituting themselves for an income. None of the cases had merit nor did they prevail in court. All of them were ego trips to cover for rider error, some more incompetent than others.
"As an expert, [John Howard] stated that in his experience, QRs were known to come loose under normal use and that they must be checked for closure before riding. He said that one could not rely on having closed it properly once, which is what plaintiff claimed was done…
"This was the transition from the times when only racers had Campagnolo equipped bicycles with the classic QR of the time and when everyone wanted to have a racing bike and could afford it. The result was that many folks who had neither bicycling nor mechanical skills rode such bicycles.
"The failure typically was that they didn’t understand the lever but used the screwed cap at the other end to secure the wheel manually. Some do that today and complain of a loose wheel, fortunately with lawyer lips. These folks should not have QRs on their bicycles. I cannot imagine a good bicycle shop selling a QR bicycle and not instructing the buyer on how to operate it. Today, I think there are instruction manuals that take care of that even if the salesperson fails to cover all of it.
"I think the bicycle industry just squeaks by most of the time. The judgments against them are mostly these bagatelles of some guy who fell and concocted a big story, hired an attorney who got an "expert" to squeeze a few thousand dollars out of an insurance company. No precedent set! Expert John Howard, on the other hand, got the "lawyer lips" for us. How can he sleep with that sleazy verdict to his credit built on the big lie that wheel QRs always work loose with time and are unreliable?"
In 2002, Brandt wrote:
"It was [John Howard’s] testimony that brought us lawyer lips, a feature of the dropouts on less expensive bicycles that prevent the wheel from being removable even when the QR is open… because, as he claimed, they open by themselves. On such an over-center device, this is like saying the tennis ball came back over the net by itself on a serve."