A jury yesterday decided that neither Harley-Davidson nor Harley-Davidson of Sacramento was responsible for a crash in April 2009 that left a woman permanently disabled.
Judy Wilson, of Lincoln, California and her estranged husband jack Wilson sued the dealership for an indeterminate sum. Her attorney, Bill Veen, told the jury that the injury had cost his clients about $2.6 million so far and that the total cost of the accident would be about ten times that amount.
The Wilsons had turned down a $900,000 settlement offer before the trial began. Their lawyer explained that settlement would not have been sufficient to pay Judy Wilson’s outstanding medical bills and his fee.
The couple was riding Jack Wilson’s 2008 Road Glide on California State Route 99 when the husband locked up his rear brakes at approximately 65 mph. The bike went sideways and Judy Wilson was thrown about 35 feet. She suffered a serious brain injury and multiple fractures to her skull, face and torso. Jack Wilson told cops that he had braked as traffic slowed and that his Antilock Brake System (ABS) had failed. He later learned that his motorcycle was not equipped with an Antilock Brake System.
Wilson’s motorcycle did have an ABS icon of the tachometer. Both Wilsons testified that a salesman at the dealership had told him the motorcycle was equipped with antilock brakes. The Wilson’s attorney argued that the ABS icon was misleading and was a product defect that had caused the crash.
James William Rushford, the lawyer for the dealership, denied that anybody had ever told either Wilson that the Road Glide had ABS. Gary Wolensky, who represented Harley-Davidson in the case, said that Harley puts the ABS icon on all of its tachometers whether they have antilock brakes or not. “There is nothing odd or unique about having an ABS icon on a non-ABS bike,” Wolensky said. “Adding a separate tachometer for the two types of bikes would bring the assembly line to a halt.”
Both defense lawyers blamed Jack Wilson for causing the crash by locking his rear brake. Both defense lawyers argued that Wilson should have been a better motorcycle rider after owning the bike for 15 months and that he should have noticed that his ABS icon never lit up and inferred from that that his motorcycle did not have ABS.
The trial began in November. Jurors deliberated less than a day. If Harley had lost the case the motor company would have been forced to recall all its motorcycles that feature the ABS icon but do not have antilock brakes.
Judy Wilson will now apply for and try to survive on Social Security.