Illinois Appellate Court Affirms Foreign Bicycle Manufacturer Will Remain in Cook County Lawsuit

The Illinois Appellate Court for the 1st District has held that a Taiwanese bicycle company will remain a party defendant in a lawsuit filed by an Illinois resident who was injured after the fork of her bicycle snapped in half without warning.

The appeals panel has found that Giant Manufacturing Ltd., a Taiwanese company, was within the personal jurisdiction of Janet Kowal’s lawsuit. In 2013, she sued Giant Manufacturing in the Circuit Court of Cook County. Giant Manufacturing is the Taiwanese company that makes Giant bicycles. The lawsuit included as defendants other entities who sold or did maintenance work on her Giant bike.

Because Giant Manufacturing, through its United States subsidiary and its authorized retailers, had enough of a deliberate presence within Illinois, the court held that the company could be potentially liable in the lawsuits involving one of its products.  The case was appealed to the Illinois Appellate Court on an interlocutory basis.

“[T]he fact that there were approximately 40 Giant Bicycle authorized retailers in Illinois,further demonstrates that defendant continuously and intentionally serves or targets this market,” Justice Reyes wrote in the 21-page opinion.  “[G]iven the continuous nature of Giant Manufacturing’s relationship with Giant Bicycle and its authorized retailers in Illinois, the presence of Giant Manufacturing’s products in Illinois was not random, fortuitous or attenuated.”

Kowal purchased her Giant-brand bicycle from Westchester Wheels Inc., then an authorized Giant retailer in 2007. That company is no longer in business.

In 2013, Kowal took the bike to Hartley’s Cycle Shoppe, a Hinsdale-based Giant retailer, where she had it tuned up in preparation for the Des Moines Register’s annual great bicycle ride across Iowa, or RAGBRAI, a 468-mile track across the state of Iowa.

During her RAGBRAI ride, the fork of her bike snapped causing her to fall. According to Kowal’s attorney, Kenneth Hoffman, Kowal was airlifted to the University of Iowa Hospital where she was diagnosed with a fracture in her C-7 vertebrae, a displaced clavicle and a fractured thumb.

Kowal’s lawsuit named each party in the chain of commerce, Westchester Wheels, Hartley’s Cycle Shoppe, the Virginia-based Giant Bicycle and the Taiwan-based Giant Manufacturing, Giant Bicycle’s parent company.

Giant Bicycle and Giant Manufacturing were served through the Illinois Secretary of State. Giant Manufacturing sought to quash the service of summons, arguing it was outside the jurisdiction of Kowal’s lawsuit. But the Cook County Circuit Court judge ruled that under Illinois law, Kowal’s lawsuit had specific jurisdiction over Giant Manufacturing and accordingly the Circuit Court judge denied the Taiwanese’s motion.

The appeals panel’s decision revolved around the legal theories used to determine whether a court has specific jurisdiction over nonresident defendants like Giant Manufacturing.  Since 1945, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that a nonresident defendant must pass “certain minimum contacts” with a forum state.  These contacts must occur as a result of the defendant’s deliberate action and not the “random, fortuitous or attenuated actions of a consumer or third party.”  The court found that although Giant Manufacturing was an alien defendant, the other factors outweigh this factor. “We thus conclude that it is reasonable for Illinois to exercise personal jurisdiction over Giant Manufacturing.”

“Giant Manufacturing in effect set up its business to cover the entire United States through its ownership and control of its exclusive distribution of Giant-brand bicycle.  It needed no formal agreement with Giant Bicycles distribution of its product.” Accordingly, the appeals panel found that it is reasonable for Illinois to exercise personal jurisdiction over Giant Manufacturing.

Janet Kowal v. Westchester Wheels, Inc., et al., 2017 IL App (1st) 152293.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling bicycle accident lawsuits, truck accident cases, motorcycle injury lawsuits, car accident cases and catastrophic injury cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Alsip, Arlington Heights, Rosemont, River Forest, River Grove, Chicago (Wrigleyville, Hyde Park, South Shore, Englewood, North Lawndale, Ashburn, Pulaski Park), Kenilworth, Inverness, Mundelein, Matteson, Worth and Hinsdale, Ill.

Related blog posts:

$65,000 Cook County Jury Verdict for Bike Rider Doored by Parked City Worker

$439,600 Jury Verdict for Injured Bicyclist Struck by Motorist in Intersection

$21 Million Settlement Reached for Catastrophic Injuries to Bicyclist Hit By Trucker