Proximate Cause and Products Liability Converge in New Case

We discuss causation (sometimes called proximate cause) often in this blog, and for good reason. It’s usually the most difficult part of an injury lawsuit to prove, and defendants often challenge proximate cause vigorously at trial. Additionally, the concept of causation is often so vague that different courts may appear to rule differently in every factual scenario.

What is Proximate Cause?

Just as it sounds, proximate cause asks whether the defendant’s negligence actually caused the injury. By way of example, assume a car rear-ends a vehicle driven by a person with a heart condition. Two days later, that person dies of a heart attack. Did the accident cause the death, or the heart condition?

These questions arise in many forms, and are often factual disputes for a jury to determine. Courts have defined causation as whether, in the realm of human foresight, injury could be seen as occurring from the negligence.

New Case on Causation

A recent case explores causation in the context of products liability. A man had purchased a bicycle, and was riding it in Miami, when the wheels suddenly and without warning froze and locked, sending the victim tumbling over and suffering catastrophic damage to his face and jaw. It turns out that pieces of debris from the road had damaged carbon fiber parts of the bike, which then caused the wheels to stop.

The man sued the maker of the bicycle under a number of product liability theories, including failure to warn. Specifically, the victim argued that had there been a warning that carbon fiber on the bike could be damaged by debris, and stop the wheels, he wouldn’t have purchased it.

Appeal Ensues

The jury entered a verdict of $800,000, but the bicycle company appealed. The appellate court noted that it must be more likely than not that the failure to warn caused the injuries.

The court took a very limited view of causation, stating that the debris (or poor road conditions) caused the accident, not the failure to warn. The court noted that all roads may have debris, and that’s not something any bicycle company can control, or should have to warn about.

It should be noted that the case did not go forward on other products liability theories, such as defective manufacturing or defective design. There’s no way to know from the case why that is. But it’s very possible the outcome may have been different had that been the case.

Still, it’s troubling that the court took such a narrow view of the case, and didn’t give much attention to the fact that it wasn’t just the debris that caused the accident, but the weak and apparently susceptible carbon fiber parts of the bike.

If a bicycle manufacturer knows parts of a bike are weak and may be susceptible to debris, it should have an obligation to warn purchasers of that fact. That sounds like common sense. Unfortunately, the appellate court disagreed in this instance.

If you are injured by a defective or malfunctioning product, make sure your attorneys understand all the possible legal theories and strategies. Talk to the Miami personal injury attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. today for a free consultation about your injury case.


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