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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
• On October 21, 1988, Sam Worstell suffered serious brain injuries
when his "Griffin 510" helmet shattered on impact in Mobile,
• 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,
• 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,
"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.
Tyler Wright contributes and publishes news editorial to http://www.all-motorcycle-helmets.com.
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