Motorcycle Helmet Failures
 

Motorcycle helmet failures result in unparalleled settlements for brain-injured riders

The Christopher Symons Case
On April 23, 1995, 16-year-old high school student Christopher Symons, a resident of Naples, Florida, was riding his Honda motor scooter to work on a residential street in Naples, when another motorist ran a stop sign in front of him, causing a collision. Although it was an extremely low-speed collision, and although Christopher was wearing a full-face motorcycle helmet, he suffered catastrophic brain injuries, which left him wheelchair-bound and with permanent speech and motor skill dysfunction.

At the time of his collision, Christopher was wearing a "Griffin GS 520" motorcycle helmet, manufactured by the Canadian company "Griffin Products, Inc." He did not suffer any broken bones or injuries in the collision whatsoever, except his severe brain injury. "The Griffin motorcycle helmet provided Chris Symons with a false sense of security, which is one of the most dangerous things of all," said Plaintiffs’ counsel David Bright, of the law firm of Watts Law Firm.

The James Hemphill Case
Two years later almost to the day, on April 22, 1997, 24-year-old James Hemphill, a resident of Ocala, Florida, was riding his Suzuki motorcycle on a similar residential street in his hometown, when a motorist failed to yield the right-of-way in front of him, causing a collision. Like Christopher Symons, James Hemphill was wearing a full-face motorcycle helmet. Like Christopher Symons, James Hemphill suffered a low-speed collision. Once again, although it was an extremely low-speed collision, and although James was wearing a full-face motorcycle helmet, he suffered catastrophic brain injuries, which left him with permanent speech, motor skill, and cognitive dysfunction.

Ironically, at the time of his collision, James Hemphill was wearing a "Helmtec 510" motorcycle helmet, manufactured by the same Canadian company that made the Griffin helmet that Christopher Symons was wearing in his accident two years earlier. In James Hemphill’s accident, his motorcycle helmet shattered upon impact, leaving him with numerous head and facial fractures, including a basilar skull fracture.

Further investigation revealed that Christopher Symons’ "Griffin GS 520" and James Hemphill’s "Helmtec 510" were actually identical helmets. They are, in fact, the same helmet model, made by the same company and sold under different brand names and model numbers. James Hemphill’s helmet only provided the appearance of safety," said Plaintiffs’ counsel Mikal Watts, of the law firm of Watts Law Firm.

Symons and Hemphill filed separate lawsuits in Federal court against the companies that manufactured their helmets, alleging that the helmets failed to protect them from head and brain injuries, even in their low-impact accidents.

Defects in the Motorcycle Helmets
In their lawsuits, both Symons and Hemphill alleged that there were numerous defects in their identical helmets that rendered them unsafe. In both cases, the helmet failed to protect the wearer from head and brain injuries in low-speed collisions. In both cases, the supposedly rigid outer shell of the helmet failed, either by flexing or "oil canning", or by shattering completely.

Christopher and James’ attorneys established that the polycarbonate plastic material forming the outer shells of their helmets was improperly molded, as the manufacturer used recycled or "regrind" polycarbonate. The helmets therefore lacked the proper stiffness and strength to protect the wearer. To determine the molecular weight of the helmets, scientists performed "Intrinsic Viscosity Tests" on the helmet shells. The test results showed that Chris Symons’ helmet had a 9.89% reduction in intrinsic viscosity, while James Hemphill’s helmet had a 12% reduction. Manufacturers’ specifications for the polycarbonate material warn that a mere 9% drop in intrinsic viscosity will result in 100% failures of the motorcycle helmet shell.

Tests also showed that both of the helmet shells were too thin, even thinner than the minimum thickness specified by the polycarbonate manufacturer, rendering them prone to flexing and shattering upon impact.

The Manufacturer Was Aware of the Defects
Shockingly, the manufacturer of the helmets was aware of serious problems in its helmets long before Christopher Symons and James Hemphill were tragically injured. The helmet manufacturer was notified that many of its helmets did not survive testing for U.S. Department of Transportation and Canadian Standards minimum helmet requirements. Nevertheless, the manufacturer affixed a "DOT" sticker to the helmets, indicating compliance, and used the Canadian Standards logo in its advertisements.

After being notified that its helmets shattered during testing the manufacturer modified the design of the helmet, in hopes of passing CSA testing. This occurred in late 1988 or early 1989, after Christopher Symons and James Hemphill’s helmets had already been made and sold. "This is the classic situation that calls for a full recall of the product. Instead, Griffin/Helmtec just left the old models on the shelf for Chris Symons and James Hemphill to buy," said Plaintiffs’ counsel David Bright, of Watts Law Firm.

The Manufacturer Has a Long History of Helmet Defects
While Christopher Symons’ bore the "Griffin" name and James Hemphill’s helmet was a "Helmtec", they were, in reality, the same helmet model, made by the same manufacturer. The company intermittently went by the name of "Griffin", "Helmtec", "Ranger", and "Canstar" before ceasing its operations in the early 1990s. Throughout its history, in each of its various incarnations, it faced numerous consumer complaints and lawsuits. "The Defendant’s corporate shell game and frequent name changes prolonged the fight, but they couldn’t avoid being finally brought to justice," said Plaintiffs’ counsel Mikal Watts, of the law firm of Watts Law Firm

There Have Been Widespread Occurrences of Griffin/Helmtec Motorcycle Helmet Failures
Attorneys for the Plaintiffs learned that among the over 60 claims and lawsuits regarding these helmets and their predecessors, the following incidents involved the very same model helmet:
• On September 19, 1986, Michelle Hamilton received serious brain injuries when her "Griffin 520" helmet shattered upon impact in Fort Myers, Florida.
• On June 7, 1987, Gary Bewley suffered serious brain injuries when his "Griffin 155" helmet shattered on impact in Atchison, Kansas.
• On October 21, 1988, Sam Worstell suffered serious brain injuries when his "Griffin 510" helmet shattered on impact in Mobile, Alabama.
• On September 5, 1989, David Pfeiffer died when his "Ranger 510" helmet shattered on impact in Huntsville, Alabama.
• On July 23, 1990, James Bennett, Jr., died when his "Ranger 520" helmet shattered on impact in Citronell, Alabama.
• On June 25, 1992, Joshua Bennett died when his "Ranger 520" helmet shattered on impact in Rusk County, Texas.
• On March 18, 1994, Juan Tamez suffered serious brain injuries when his "Ranger 510" helmet shattered on impact in Edinburg, Texas.
• On April 23, 1995, Christopher Symons suffered serious brain injuries when his "Griffin 520" "oil canned" on impact in Naples, Florida.
• On April 22, 1997, James Hemphill suffered serious brain injuries when his "Helmtec 510" helmet shattered on impact in Ocala, Florida.

"These cases underscore the critical need to get these products off the shelves and away from the consumer before they can do more harm," said Plaintiffs’ counsel David Bright, of the law firm of Watts Law Firm.

The manufacturer of Christopher Symons’ and James Hemphill’s motorcycle helmets argued that the helmets performed reasonably, and that helmets should not be expected to protect the wearer from all head and brain injuries. However, U.S. government studies have shown that properly constructed motorcycle helmets prevent from 67 percent to 80 percent of all brain injuries in motorcycle accidents, including the most common brain injuries, which are rotationally induced. These government studies have been the basis for numerous state laws requiring helmets to be worn by motorcyclists.


Author Notes:

Tyler Wright contributes and publishes news editorial to http://www.all-motorcycle-helmets.com.  A buyers guide to all types of motorcycle helmets plus shields, googles, custom and wired radio helmets.

 
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