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Cyclist wore helmet too high, resulting in brain injuries: defense

Type:

Verdict-Defendant

State:

California

Venue:

Los Angeles County

Court:

Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Van Nuys

Injury Type(s):

arm hip head-pneumocephalus head-fracture; skull knee brain-coma brain-edema; cerebral brain-traumatic brain injury brain-subarachnoid hemorrhage chest-fracture; rib elbow other-abrasions other-laceration other-craniectomy other-physical therapy other-loss of consortium shoulder shoulder-fracture(fracture, clavicle); shoulder(fracture, clavicle) epidermis-contusion

Case Type:

Recreation - BicycleProducts Liability - Design Defect, Sports Equipment

Case Name:

Jeffrey Sohn and Avril Sohn v. Easton-Bell Sports Inc., Cupertino Bike Shop Inc., and Does 1 through 100, Inclusive, No. LC095289

Date:

August 14, 2013

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Avril Sohn (Female, 60 Years), 

Jeffrey Sohn (Male, 57 Years)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Raymond P. Johnson; Raymond Paul Johnson; El Segundo, CA, for Avril Sohn, Jeffrey Sohn ■ Larry E. Coben; Coben & Associates; Scottsdale, AZ, for Avril Sohn, Jeffrey Sohn

Plaintiff Expert(s):

Anne Barnes; R.N., C.L.C.P.; Life Care Planning; Glendale, CA called by Raymond P. Johnson, Larry E. Coben ■ Chris Kauderer; B.S.M.E.; Accident Reconstruction; Sacramento, CA called by Raymond P. Johnson, Larry E. Coben ■ David Patterson; M.D.; Physical Medicine; San Diego, CA called by Raymond P. Johnson, Larry E. Coben ■ Roger Light; Ph.D.; Neuropsychology; Manhattan Beach, CA called by Raymond P. Johnson, Larry E. Coben ■ Royce Chrys; M.D.; Radiology; Walnut Creek, CA called by Raymond P. Johnson, Larry E. Coben ■ Edward Bennett; M.A.; Vocational Rehabilitation; Santa Barbara, CA called by Raymond P. Johnson, Larry E. Coben ■ Mariusz Ziejewski; Ph.D.; Injury Biomechanics; Fargo, ND called by Raymond P. Johnson, Larry E. Coben ■ Richard Stalnaker; Ph.D.; Biomechanics; Mt. Vernon, OH called by Raymond P. Johnson, Larry E. Coben ■ Timothy Lanning; Ph.D.; Economics; Santa Ana, CA called by Raymond P. Johnson, Larry E. Coben

Defendant(s):

Easton-Bell Sports Inc., 

Cupertino Bike Shop Inc.

Defense Attorney(s):

James J. Yukevich; Yukevich | Cavanaugh; Los Angeles, CA, for Easton-Bell Sports Inc. ■ Thomas Borncamp; Yukevich | Cavanaugh; Los Angeles, CA, for Easton-Bell Sports Inc. ■ None reported; Redwood City, CA, for Cupertino Bike Shop Inc.

Defendent Expert(s):

David Thom; Bicycle Helmets; El Segundo, CA called by James J. Yukevich, Thomas Borncamp ■ David Weiner; Economics; Los Angeles, CA called by James J. Yukevich, Thomas Borncamp ■ Steve Werner; Accident Reconstruction; Phoenix, AZ called by James J. Yukevich, Thomas Borncamp ■ Stacey Helvin; Life Care Planning; Anaheim, CA called by James J. Yukevich, Thomas Borncamp ■ Thomas Gennarelli; Neurosurgery; Milwaukee, WI called by James J. Yukevich, Thomas Borncamp ■ Thomas Hedge, Jr.; Physical Medicine; Northridge, CA called by James J. Yukevich, Thomas Borncamp ■ Michael Brant-Zawadski; Neuroradiology; Newport Beach, CA called by James J. Yukevich, Thomas Borncamp ■ William Lynch; Neuropsychology; Redwood City, CA called by James J. Yukevich, Thomas Borncamp ■ Catherine Corrigan; Biomechanics; Philadelphia, PA called by James J. Yukevich, Thomas Borncamp

Insurer(s):

American International Group, Inc. (AIG) for Easton-Bell Sports Inc. Zurich North America for Easton-Bell Sports Inc.

Facts:

On Oct. 31, 2009, plaintiff Jeffrey Sohn, 57, a manager at a Silicon Valley tech company was wearing a Giro Pneumo helmet during an 85-mile bicycle ride in Sunol, California. Sohn crashed during a downhill portion of the ride and his head hit the pavement. He claimed that the helmet failed to protect him from suffering traumatic brain injuries. Sohn sued the helmet's designer, Easton-Bell Sports Inc., and the store that sold him the helmet, Cupertino Bike Shop Inc. He alleged that the defendants were liable for the defectively designed helmet. The bike shop was ultimately dismissed from the case prior to trial, and the matter proceeded to trial against Easton-Bell only. The plaintiffs' helmet design and testing expert opined that Sohn's Giro Pneumo helmet was defectively designed, specifically asserting that the helmet's "Roc Loc" system fractured and caused the helmet to rotate during the subject crash. The expert testified that the "Roc Loc" system was part of the "restraint system" for the helmet, which was supposed to keep the helmet positioned on the head during an impact from a crash. However, the expert opined that the rotation of the helmet allowed the left side of Sohn's head to be unprotected and susceptible to injury. Thus, the plaintiffs' helmet design and radiology experts testified that the impact area was high on the side of Sohn's head in an area where the helmet would have covered. Plaintiffs' counsel further contended, through multiple experts, that Sohn suffered his serious injuries as a result of a "contra coup" contusion when his brain rebounded inside his skull from the impact. Counsel for Easton-Bell contended that the helmet offered the Sohn optimal protection for that type of road helmet when worn properly, and that plaintiffs' counsel's defect theory was flawed and not supported by the evidence. The defense's biomechanics expert opined that that Sohn was wearing the helmet positioned high on his head, contrary to the plaintiffs' contention. The expert showed that the position of the strap on the helmet involved in the accident would have placed the helmet high on Sohn's head -- when correlated with Sohn's head dimensions from the CT scan data and prior photographs of Sohn wearing the helmet high on his head. Counsel for Easton-Bell also showed that language in the helmet owner's manual stated that no helmet can protect parts of the head that it does not cover. The defense's helmets expert presented evidence that the helmet met all of the applicable Consumer Product Safety Commission safety standards for this type of helmet; that the CPSC is a rigorous standard that is appropriate for the lightweight, ventilated helmets that are required by serious cyclists; and that the "Roc Loc" system was not part of the helmet's retention system, but rather a "fit system" designed to keep the helmet comfortable and free from wobbling on the head while riding due to wind or movement by the cyclist. Counsel for Easton-Bell also demonstrated that the plaintiffs' helmet design and testing expert and radiologist expert misidentified the location of the skull fracture -- contending that the fracture, i.e. the impact location, was much lower on Sohn's head than where the plaintiffs' experts said it was located. Easton-Bell's counsel cross-examined the plaintiffs' radiology expert and pointed out that this expert had identified the fractures as temporal fractures (lower on the head) when he was a treating radiologist for Sohn, but raised the location to the "upper parietal skull" when he was a paid expert for plaintiffs' counsel. The defense's biomechanics expert also presented two- and three-dimensional prints of the CT scans of Sohn's skull, which, she opined, correctly identified the fracture line. The defense's expert neuroradiologist opined that the location of Sohn's "contra coup injury" demonstrated that the impact area would have been below the area where the helmet covered, i.e. in front of and near the "ear hole" of Sohn. Thus, the expert opined that, overall, the primary impact area, as demonstrated by the temporal skull fracture, was below the area covered by the helmet due to the elevated position of the helmet (i.e. Sohn was wearing the helmet too high on his head). Easton-Bell's counsel also presented the testimony of various firefighter and paramedic first responders to show that there was, in fact, abrasions and lacerations on the side of Sohn's face. Furthermore, the defense's biomechanics expert opined that "road rash" lacerations need not always be present in such accidents, and that Sohn's ear and face would have been protected to some degree by the bandana he was wearing and the helmet straps. In addition, counsel for Easton-Bell contended that the helmet "drop testing" and the "retention testing" conducted by the plaintiffs' helmet expert was flawed and irrelevant to the accident. Finally, the defense's accident reconstruction and helmets experts testified that scratch patterns on Sohn's helmet contradicted the accident reconstruction presented by plaintiffs' counsel. The experts opined that, based upon the scratch patterns on the helmet, the roll direction of Sohn's helmeted head when it impacted the pavement was in a direction that made it impossible to fracture the fit system before Sohn's head impacted the ground. In response, the plaintiffs' biomechanics expert testified that Sohn could not have hit his head below the area where the helmet covered, as Easton-Bell's counsel contended. The expert opined that the absence of lacerations and abrasions on the ear and side of Sohn's face was evidence that the impact occurred high and rearward on the side of Sohn's head. In addition, the plaintiffs' helmet design and testing expert testified that the CPSC standard did not adequately protect cyclists, as there is a tougher voluntary standard that helmet manufacturers could use for their helmets.

Injury:

Sohn was airlifted to a hospital and admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. The plaintiffs' physiatry and radiology experts testified that Sohn sustained traumatic brain injuries, including extensive bilateral hemorrhagic brain contusions, diffuse cerebral edema, a diffuse subarachnoid hemorrhage, and a left temporal skull fracture with associated pneumocephalus, which is the presence of air or gas within the cranial cavity. In addition to the head injuries, Sohn was found to have sustained a left mid-clavicle fracture, multiple rib fractures, a left elbow soft-tissue laceration, and abrasions to the right shoulder, upper arm, flank, hip and knee. The following day he required a craniectomy involving the removal and replacement of a portion of his skull. As a result, Sohn was in a coma for several months. Over the following year, he participated in intensive speech, occupational and physical therapies. As of mid-2011, Sohn had transitioned from a hospital bed to his regular bed, and transitioned to outpatient therapies. The plaintiffs' expert neuropsychologist testified that while Sohn made some significant functional and cognitive gains, he remained significantly impaired. The expert testified that as a result, Sohn could not care for himself, enjoy friendships and his marriage, or handle tasks that required significant cognitive ability. In addition, the plaintiffs' vocational rehabilitation expert opined that Sohn would never be able to work again. According to Sohn's life care planning and economics experts, Sohn's future life care plan and total economic loss was approximately $10 million. Plaintiffs' counsel also contended that Sohn's past medical bills for his head injury amounted to $975,000. In addition, Sohn's wife, Avril Sohn, sought recovery of damages for her loss of consortium. Thus, plaintiffs' counsel asked the jury to award the Sohns $25 million in total damages.

Result:

The jury found that Sohn's helmet was not defective in its design. Thus, it rendered a defense verdict.

Trial Information:

Judge:

Maria E. Stratton

Trial Length:

14  days

Trial Deliberations:

5  hours

Jury Vote:

10-2

Jury Composition:

6 male/ 6 female

Post Trial:

Easton-Bell has filed a memorandum of cost for $598,000.

Editor's Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiffs' and defense counsel.