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Made in the USA: Part I

How Consumers and Bicycle Retailers Can Avoid Defective Foreign Bicycles

In 2012, the U.S. imported over seven million bicycles, primarily from China and Taiwan. While many of these bicycles appear attractive, some are defectively designed and manufactured. These defects harm unsuspecting bicyclists. The cost to obtain justice through the U. S. litigation process can be prohibitive. So, my focus is on helping identify a few general safety and legal issues from the bicyclist's point of view, with an eye toward prevention of harm and costly litigation.

Often, I read or hear about the aerodynamic weight esthetics of carbon fiber bicycles. While these factors generate profits for corporations who design and manufacture bicycles, genuine safety should be paramount.

This article and Podcast are part of a two-part discussion of some of the issues to raise our awareness, based on a true case study involving a defective carbon fiber fork that injured two bicyclists. The intent of this article is to protect bicycle consumers and burdened USA bicycle retailers, and to offer solutions.

The Paper Napkin:

How was your bicycle designed? One recent case I handled involved a defective carbon fiber fork that had its origin on a paper napkin sketch. The fork design was both too thin and too narrow, which led to defects in the carbon fiber layup and bonding process while being manufactured. The designer's emphasis was on aerodynamics, cost, weight and esthetics, but overlooked your safety according to our composites and failure analysis Ph.D. expert engineers.

During the litigation discovery process, it was learned that the "paper napkin" concept was reduced to a one-dimensional computer aided drawing (CAD). The "design" failed to undergo an elemental analysis to determine if the fork design and materials were safe. The CAD designer was not an engineer. The bicycle designer lacked reliable proof the fork was strong or durable after leaving the Chinese manufacturer.

Manufacture: "No Control in the USA":

One of the biggest problems of foreign made composite bicycle parts, including forks, is that there is little oversight or control by US companies. In other words, many US companies trust foreign manufacturers' "quality control" process. US Companies are lured by the low cost of manufacturing overseas, and trust that their product is manufactured to specifications.

Recalls: "The Computer Crash"

When a product fails, the separate designer and manufacturers point fingers at each other. The designer says it's a manufacturing defect, whereas the foreign manufacturer argues it was a design doomed for failure from the beginning because it couldn't be manufactured.

One case in point, is a composite fork that was defectively thin, curvy, and light. These design defects made it difficult to layup the multiple layers of pre-impregnated carbon fiber on the leading and trailing fork edges. This, in turn caused fiber layer delamination voids and porosity that weakened the fork in time. This led to catastrophic fork failure under normal riding conditions during the early life of the bicycle. (There was no misuse of the bicycle.)

To prove notice of defects requests for lawsuits, returned or recalled forks were demanded in the litigation process. Despite this failure and discontinuation of the subject fork model, the designer and manufacturer denied notice of fork failures. The designer claimed its computer crashed, but was unable to prove any computer repair records existed or it had a "backup". Sure.

In effect, any effort to discover the defect's origin were quashed by the failure to produce records. The upshot is to imply the forks were without defect.

The Crash Dilemma:

Through little or no fault, the bicycle retailer sells foreign bicycles to its loyal customers…who then crash; or at a minimum, their composite bikes fail.

If it's a non-injury case within the warranty period, the bicyclist will submit a warranty claim and hope for the best. However, if the bicyclist is seriously injured, then the retailer becomes a target in the litigation process by law. Modern strict products liability law attempts to shift the burden onto everyone in the "chain of distribution" (designer, manufacturer, and retailer) to apportion and share responsibility.

In theory, that "cost shifting" concept is supposed to force those in the "chain" to promptly accept responsibility, and save the bicyclist from expensive and time consuming litigation.

Instead, the designer and manufacturers shift the fault to the retailer and the bicyclist in order to save money.

Thus, the intent of this public interest products liability law is undermined by the designers and foreign manufacturers who refuse to accept responsibility, hide recall evidence, and beat the drum of "expensive litigation." The designers and foreign manufacturers are backed by billion-dollar insurance companies with armies of intelligent defense lawyers who at an average bill $250.00-$400.00 per hour. These insurance defense attorneys have little incentive to settle the case early on.

The insurance lawyers are paid to develop defenses.

The Insurance Defense Scam: The Imaginary "Jumping Stick"

The insurance defense lawyers are paid to develop defenses, so as to save their corporate masters money. They do this by disingenuously blaming the bicycle retailers for improperly assembling or maintaining the defective bicycles.

The insurance defense will even blame the injured bicyclist (i.e., for failing to maintain or misusing the bicycle). The defense hires charismatic and bright experts to sell their defenses using junk science in order to fool the jury.

In one case, the insurance defense expert argued the composite forks broke down due to an unidentified "jumping stick" on the highway surface that broke both forks. When questioned about it, the insurance defense expert was unable to provide details of when, or where the "jumping stick" was encountered by the innocent bicyclist.

So, now the bicycle retailer and bicyclist are fighting phantom frivolous defenses, when the designer and the foreign manufacturer of the defective composite fork avoids responsibility.

If you're injured, hire an experienced trial attorney.

Ride Safe, Ride Strong!

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©Richard L. Duquette, Esq. All rights reserved April 25, 2017