California appeals court upholds jury verdict against helmet maker, exonerating dealer


A California appellate court has upheld a jury decision that found a helmet manufacturer liable for damages in an accident, but found no liability on the part of the dealer that sold the helmets.

Sheryl Suglia sued the helmet maker, NexL Sports Product, and the dealer, Mark Skolnick and his Lifestyle Custom Cycles LLC, after an accident that injured her and killed her husband. A drunken driver caused the crash.

The jury found NexL Sport Product liable for negligent misrepresentation about its beanie helmets, but held that Lifestyle was an innocent middleman, according to a decision posted on Leagle.

The complaint centered on NexL No. 1 helmets, which were recalled in April 2002 for failing to meet federal safety and labeling standards. The helmets were reclaimed, “reworked” and sent back to dealers as No. 2 helmets labeled DOT compliant. Those helmets were recalled eight months later.

Suglia and her husband bought a used Harley-Davidson from Lifestyle in August 2002, and bought No. 2 helmets as well. A drunken motorist hit them on the bike in 2005. Kerry Suglia died of his injuries.

Sheryl Suglia settled with the motorist for $100,000 and sued NexL and Lifestyle, claiming, among other things, that Lifestyle should have notified customers that the helmets were later recalled.

Suglia won a $10 million default judgment against NexL for negligent misrepresentation, but apparently was unable to collect and sought to have the liability shifted to Lifestyle. Judges at the trial and appellate levels refused and let the jury verdicts stand. But in other circumstances it might have gone differently for Lifestyle. The appellate decision notes:

“We acknowledge a retail dealer may be strictly liable for a defective product even though the seller did not know about or create the defect… But, in the present case, the jury found no liability against the Lifestyle defendants for negligence, products liability, or negligent representation.”

Posted by Holly Wagner