Couple severely injured in motorcycle crash loses appeal of evidentiary rulings

A Dyer, Indiana, couple severely injured in a motorcycle accident has lost an appeal of a products liability suit against a motorcycle gear website, a tire manufacturer and Harley-Davidson.

As Donald and Mary Timm were driving cross-country on their Harley-Davidson motorcycle, the back tire was punctured and quickly deflated. Losing control of the motorcycle, Donald crashed into a concrete median barrier and Mary flew off the bike.

Although he was still attached to the bike and wearing a helmet, Donald sustained traumatic brain injuries, facial fractures and a cervical spine injury. Mary likewise was wearing a helmet but sustained serious head injuries.

The couple learned a few months later that the helmets they had been wearing at the time of accident were recalled due to the model’s failure to conform to certain Department of Transportation standards. The helmet distributor, Tegol, had warned that riders they “may not be adequately protected in the event of a crash,” prompting the Timms to sue.

A product liability action was filed by the Timms against more than a dozen defendants, including Tegol and Nanal Inc., the owner of LeatherUp.com, where Mary purchased her helmet. The Timms alleged their injuries would have been less severe had their helmets complied with federal safety standards and that the helmet defendants were negligent in their recall efforts. They also made claims against Harley-Davidson and tire manufacturer Goodyear Dunlop, contending that defects in the motorcycle and rear tire caused the accident.

Although the Timms brought multiple claims alleging design and manufacturing defect on the helmets, they failed to present any expert testimony to show that, because of a defect with their helmets, their injuries were worse than they otherwise would have experienced in such a severe motorcycle crash. The Indiana Northern District Court thus awarded judgment to the helmet defendants, concluding that “a lay juror would not be able to distinguish between the injuries caused by the motorcycle accident and the enhanced injuries caused by the alleged defect in the helmets without engaging in speculation.”

The district court likewise ruled in favor of Harley-Davidson and the tire manufacturer, excluding the expert testimony presented by the Timms for lack of reliability required by Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993).

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed these rulings in Donald N. Timm and Mary K. Timm v. Goodyear Dunlop Tires North America, Ltd., an Ohio-based Corporation, et al., 18-2641, first finding that summary judgment was proper on Mary’s helmet claims against Nanal Inc.

“All agree that Mary Timm suffered severe injuries. But without the assistance of an expert, a juror would be unable to distinguish between those injuries caused by the crash — in other words, the injuries anyone in this type of accident would have suffered — and any enhanced or more severe injuries caused by the defective helmet,” Circuit Judge Michael Scudder wrote for the panel.

The 7th Circuit further found nothing improper with the trial court’s conclusion on the Timms’ motorcycle claims, finding the district court was well within its discretion to exclude one of the Timms’ expert’s opinions about the cause of the tire unseating.

“To satisfy the requirements of Rule 702 and Daubert, (William) Woerhle needed to show that his conclusions were the fruit of a rigorous, objectively-verifiable approach — something more than mere speculation,” Scudder wrote. “While Woerhle may well have had the experience and knowledge to make this showing, he failed to do so.”

“…Nor do we see any abuse of discretion in the district court’s exclusion of Dr. (Daniel) Lee’s opinions regarding the cause of the crash,” Scudder continued. “…Lee likewise failed to identify any scientific literature to support his opinion.”

Finally, the panel found no abuse of discretion in the district court’s finding that neither expert possessed the requisite qualifications to offer testimony regarding the tire pressure monitoring system.

“Because the Timms’ manufacturing and design defect claims against Harley-Davidson and Goodyear rested on Woehrle’s and Lee’s testimony, the district court’s evidentiary rulings defeated those claims,” the panel concluded. “The same evidentiary shortfalls defeated the Timms’ claim based on a failure to warn.”

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