U.S. Court of Appeals Affirms Grant of Summary Judgment in Product Liability Lawsuit Related to Experts and as to Recalled Motorcycle Helmets

The 7th Circuit United States Court of Appeals in Chicago affirmed a verdict by the U.S. District Court as to the injuries suffered by Donald and Mary Timm in July 2013.  During that time period, the Timms set off on a cross-country motorcycle trip on their Harley-Davidson motorcycle. The Timms’ route began at their home in Dyer, Ind., with a final destination at Salt Lake City, Utah.

While crossing through the state of Nebraska, the Timms suffered a catastrophic accident when their motorcycle’s rear tire sustained a puncture and rapidly deflated causing Donald Timm to lose control of the motorcycle and crash into a concrete median barrier.

Mary Timm flew off the motorcycle while Donald remained attached to the bike as it slid across the highway. Although both riders were wearing helmets, each sustained serious head injuries.  Donald sustained a traumatic brain injury as well as facial fractures and a cervical spine injury.

A few months later, the Timms received notice that the helmets they were wearing at the time of the incident were recalled.

The Timms had purchased the helmets two years earlier. The Timms brought a product-liability lawsuit against Tegal, the importer of the helmets. The suit also included Nanal, the owner of the online retailer from whom they purchased one helmet, and 14 other corporate individual defendants involved in the manufacture, distribution and the sale of the helmets.

The Timms alleged that their injuries would have been less severe had their helmets complied with federal safety standards. The Timms also brought claims against Harley-Davidson, the motorcycle manufacturer, and Goodyear Dunlap, the tire manufacturer, contending that defects in the motorcycle and rear tire were the cause of the crash.

Of utmost importance was the fact that the Timms did not solicit expert testimony to show that, because of the defect with their helmets, their injuries were worse than they otherwise would have experienced in such a severe motorcycle crash.

The helmet defendants, by contrast, offered testimony from their own medical expert who gave opinion testimony that the Timms’ injuries were the type he would expect following such a serious motorcycle accident, even if they had been wearing helmets that complied with all safety standards.

Because of the lack of expert testimony, the district court entered summary judgment in favor of the helmet defendants on all of the Timms’ counts.

With respect to their claims against Harley-Davidson and Goodyear, however, the Timms did not present expert testimony regarding potential defects in the construction of the rear tire and the motorcycle’s lack of a tire pressure monitoring system.

The defendants moved to exclude the Timms’ expert’s testimony, and the U.S. District Court agreed, finding that the testimony did not conform to the requirements of the Daubert standard. Without expert testimony to support the Timms’ claims, the district court similarly granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The Timms then appealed.

The court of appeals found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in granting summary judgment to the helmet defendants. The panel stated that the 7th Circuit had previously held that when a plaintiff seeks, under Indiana law (which was applied in this case), to distinguish between ordinary and enhanced injuries, expert testimony is required.

Finally, the court of appeals found no errors with respect to the district court’s exclusion of the Timms’ experts from their claims against Harley-Davidson and Goodyear. The panel stated that the district court correctly held that a Daubert hearing was necessary and applied the right evidentiary framework. The appeals panel stated that it found no abuse of discretion with the exclusion of the Timms’ expert testimony.

Accordingly, the district court’s grant of summary judgment against the Timms and in favor of the defendants was affirmed.

Donald N. Timm and Mary Kay Timm v. Goodyear Dunlop Tires North America, Ltd., No. 18-2641 (U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, Aug. 6, 2019).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling motorcycle accident lawsuits, wrongful death cases, catastrophic injury lawsuits, product defect lawsuits and traumatic brain injury lawsuits for individuals, families and loved ones who have been injured, harmed or killed by the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Des Plaines, Glenview, Lincolnshire, Mundelein, Libertyville, Waukegan, Joliet, Aurora, St. Charles, Streamwood, Wheaton, Naperville, Downers Grove, Berwyn, Alsip, Blue Island, Orland Hills, Tinley Park, Harvey, Chicago (Roseland, East Side, Avalon Park, Calumet Heights, South Shore, Woodlawn, Bronzeville, Fuller Park, Back of the Yards, Douglas, Chinatown, Little Italy), Cicero, Forest Park, Maywood and LaGrange, Ill.

Robert D. Kreisman has been an active member of the Illinois and Missouri bars since 1976.

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