In 2018, Suzuki Motor of America was ordered to pay $20 million in penalties to two persons who were injured while riding defective Suzuki motorcycles. The two cases revolved around a defect in the brake design of the company’s GSX-R series of street bikes.
The damages against Suzuki were exacerbated by delays in issuing a recall of the defect. While product recalls can threaten any company’s bottom line, delaying a product recall or failing to inform consumers of a defect can also have serious financial consequences. In the event of serious injuries or death, a company could be held negligent if they failed to inform product users of a factory defect.
Suzuki ordered to pay $8 million to crash victim over a front brake defect connected to the 2013 recall.
In July 2013, months before Suzuki publicly acknowledged the brake defects in the GSX-R motorcycles, Thomas Joseph Soulliere was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident in Cypress, California. He was riding a 2009 GSX-R600, one of the models named in the recall. A car unexpectedly pulled out in front of him from a parking lot adjacent to the road he was traveling on. The brakes failed when he attempted to apply them, and he was ejected from his bike after crashing into the car.
Over five years after the accident, a Santa Ana jury ordered Suzuki to pay $2 million in damages to Soulliere. An additional $6 million in punitive damages were also applied by the jury, far below the $100 million requested by Soulliere’s attorneys. The company intends to appeal the ruling.
Key to Soulliere’s case was evidence that Suzuki was aware of the brake defects before the accident, allegedly for up to a decade prior. This knowledge may have informed the October 2013 recall, which covered over 200,000 GSX-R bikes sold from 2004 to 2013. In addition to Soulliere’s GSX-R600 model, the GSX-R750 and GSX-R1000 models were also part of the recall.
The delay in announcing the 2013 GSX-R brake defects recall directly contributed to another major accident the same year.
Months prior to Suzuki publicizing the recall, Adrian Johns was riding a GSX-R1000 down a Georgia roadway when his brakes reportedly failed. The resulting accident broke his back and left him unable to return to his job at the U.S. Postal Service.
Suzuki claimed Johns was at fault, scrutinizing his conduct in the immediate aftermath of the accident. Johns did not initially blame the brakes for his accident, a fact that Suzuki used in its defense. In addition, the company’s attorney hired an independent investigator to recreate the accident in an attempt to show that the rider was reckless.
Johns’ lawyers in turn pointed to Suzuki’s mishandling of the product recall. Possibly the most damning piece of evidence against the company came from its own internal records. In the months leading up to the recall, Suzuki quietly began to stockpile replacement parts for the affected motorcycles, without announcing the defect to owners of the bikes. In addition to this, the company reportedly decided in February 2013 to hold off on a recall, fearing the negative effect it would have during a sales season.
A Douglas County jury ultimately awarded Johns a total of $12.5 million in damages. However, despite ruling in his favor, the jury stated that Johns was 49 percent responsible for the accident, and rejected his punitive damage claims.
Suzuki’s efforts to challenge the conduct of the rider, and the jury agreeing that nearly half of the responsibility for the accident lay on the victim, highlights the challenges in perception that motorcyclists still face today.
Motorcycle owners would be wise to check manufacturer’s websites for recall notices, but manufacturers must be transparent about such issues or risk exposure to legal action.
Suzuki is far from the only motorcycle manufacturer to deal with major product recalls. Manufacturers like Ducati, Honda, and Yamaha have all faced recalls in recent years for a variety of problems. These companies often offer ways for concerned owners to register for email notices if a recall affects their vehicle model.
If you are a motorcycle enthusiast, caution on the road is critical, but it isn’t the only way to protect yourself before or after an accident.
- Sign up to receive news about your bike’s manufacturer. Whether a recall is for a non-critical part or a major safety mechanism, hearing about it from the manufacturer before an accident happens might save your life.
- Get regular maintenance at facilities you trust. Even if you know how to maintain and repair own bike, a dealer-approved mechanic may catch issues before they become a problem.
- In the event of an accident, be prepared for a lengthy legal battle. Be sure to take a screenshot of any relevant information about product recalls on your bike manufacturer’s website. If the bike is responsible for your accident, their failure to inform owners of defects can only help your case.
Attorneys representing other drivers or the manufacturer of your bike will seek to portray you as an inattentive, impatient risktaker, feeding on the negative public perception of motorcycle enthusiasts. You will need to hire an experienced motorcycle accident attorney in order to effectively challenge these claims.
This blog is not meant to dispense legal advice and is not a comprehensive review of the facts, the law, this topic or cases related to the topic.