A federal jury in Atlanta turned back a woman’s claims that a defective bicycle helmet caused her traumatic brain injuries during a fall, delivering a defense verdict in a failure-to-warn case where the plaintiff asked for more than $17 million in damages.
According to court filings, Kirsten Walker has incurred more than $800,000 in medical bills since the 2012 incident, when she fell during an amateur triathlon.
An attorney for the company that manufactured the helmet, California-based Bell Sports Inc., said that, while Walker’s injuries were regrettable, they were not due to any defect in its design or failure to warn users of potential hazards associated with its use.
“Given that Bell Sports is vitally interested in safety, any injury to a user is regrettable,” said Benjamine Reid of Carlton Fields’ Miami office in a prepared statement.
“Here, the jury found that Bell’s instructions and warnings were appropriate. Had they been followed, this injury would not have occurred,” said Reid, who handled the case with firm shareholders Gary Pappas, Jeffrey Cohen and associate Justan Bounds.
Walker’s attorney said his team will challenge the verdict.
“The Walkers are wonderful people who have suffered a terrible injury. We plan to appeal,” said Partin, who handled the case with firm colleagues Cale Conley and William Owens and Forsyth solo J. Kevin Walters.
The defense may not have been too confident in the outcome. According to the docket, Bell unsuccessfully sought to have Judge Richard Story of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia declare a mistrial over concerns with one or more jury charges.
According to court filings and other sources, Walker, then 44, was participating in the “Iron Girl Triathlon” in Buford when she lost control of her bicycle and fell to the pavement, injuring the left side of her body and the lower left portion of her head.
Walker suffered a fractured skull and closed head injuries, including multiple hemorrhages and subdural hematomas, as well as facial fractures, chest and rib injuries.
Walker underwent multiple surgeries and endured “profound cognitive deficits, including a period of near total memory loss,” according to the complaint.
Walker and her husband, Rodney Walker, originally sued Bell in Gwinnett County State Court, then dismissed and refiled in Georgia’s Northern District.
The single-count negligence complaint said the Giro Skyla model helmet “failed to provide adequate and reasonable protection” for Walker in a “reasonably foreseeable impact occurrence.”
Bell, it said, had failed to properly warn Walker about the “limitations and hazards of the subject helmet when put to its intended use so as to allow her to make a fully informed purchase decision and/or decision to continue to utilize the subject helmet while riding a bicycle.”
“Any instruction, warning, or label provided by defendant Bell was inadequate to apprise Ms. Walker of the proper use of the subject helmet, as well as dangers and limitations associated with the subject helmet,” it said.
Walker’s pleading said Bell’s instructions failed to warn Walker that wearing the helmet high on her forehead “exposed the back and side of her head to serious injury in a crash.”
Walker’s pretrial filings included claims for $816,460 in medical bills and between $1.9 million and $2.6 million in lost wages.
Bell argued that it had included warnings on the helmet and its packaging, as well as in the user manual, all in accordance with the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Bicycle Helmet Standard.
Additionally, the Walkers possessed independent personal knowledge of the proper use of the helmet as well as the limitations and hazards associated with its use, it said in its pretrial outline of the case.
Walker “knowingly assumed the risk of her injuries when she voluntarily participated in the triathlon race and wore the helmet,” it said. “Plaintiff’s comparative negligence resulting in an impact to a location on her head which was not covered by the helmet is the sole proximate cause or a substantial contributing cause of her resulting injuries.”
Walker’s was the only claim alleging improper warnings the company had received since introducing the helmet line in 2014, Bell said.
According to a Carlton Fields spokeswoman, the plaintiffs lawyers sought $17.5 million in damages.
Following a five-day trial, the jury ruled that Bell was not liable for negligently failing to adequately warn Walker about the helmet and did not cause her injuries.