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Lyons v. Leatt Corp.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division, Lafayette

September 14, 2017

BROCK C. LYONS, Plaintiff,
v.
LEATT CORPORATION, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          PAUL R. CHERRY, MAGISTRATE JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         This matter is before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment [DE 62], filed by Defendant Leatt Corporation on May 1, 2017. Plaintiff Brock C. Lyons filed a response on May 30, 2017, and Defendant filed a reply on June 12, 2017. Because expert testimony is required for Plaintiff to prove his claims and because the Court has excluded the opinions of Plaintiff's experts, the Court grants Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         In his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff Brock Lyons alleges that he was injured on April 13, 2014, when the Moto GPX Sport Leatt-Brace, advertised, marketed, distributed, and promoted by Defendant Leatt Corporation, “caused and/or failed to protect Plaintiff from serious bodily injury” while Plaintiff used the brace in a reasonably foreseeable manner.

         Count I is brought under the Indiana Products Liability Act, alleging that Defendant should be held strictly liable as a designer, manufacturer, distributor, and seller of the brace, which was in a defective condition and unreasonably dangerous to expected users such as Plaintiff. Count II alleges a claim of breach of warranty for failing to protect Plaintiff from serious bodily injury, alleging that Defendant made implied and express warranties that the brace was reasonably fit for the general uses and purposes intended and that it was free of any defects in its design or construction. Count III alleges that Defendant negligently designed, manufactured, marketed, and distributed the brace in such a manner that it created an unreasonable risk of physical harm and injury and that Defendant failed to warn of the known and foreseeable hazard of the brace. Count IV alleges gross negligence and seeks punitive damages. On November 10, 2015, the Court dismissed Count V, which alleges deceptive and misleading advertising and marketing.

         On May 1, 2017, Defendant filed motions to exclude the expert witness testimony of Plaintiff's proffered expert witnesses, Tyler Kress, Ph.D. and Ryan Hughes. On September 14, 2017, the Court granted both motions, excluding the opinions of Dr. Kress and Mr. Hughes.

         SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a motion for summary judgment be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Rule 56 “mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). “Summary judgment is appropriate when no material fact is disputed and the moving parties are entitled to judgment as a matter of law, meaning that no reasonable jury could find for the other party based on the evidence in the record.” Carman v. Tinkes, 762 F.3d 565, 566 (7th Cir. 2014).

         A party seeking summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, that it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323; Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 (a), (c). The moving party may discharge its initial responsibility by simply “‘showing'-that is, pointing out to the district court-that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325; see also Spierer v. Rossman, 798 F.3d 502, 508 (7th Cir. 2015). When the nonmoving party would have the burden of proof at trial, the moving party is not required to support its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent's claim. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323, 325; Spierer, 798 F.3d at 507-08; Modrowski v. Pigatto, 712 F.3d 1166, 1168-69 (7th Cir. 2013).

         “Once the moving party puts forth evidence showing the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to provide evidence of specific facts creating a genuine dispute.” Carroll v. Lynch, 698 F.3d 561, 564 (7th Cir. 2012). The non-moving party cannot resist the motion and withstand summary judgment by merely resting on its pleadings. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1), (e); Flint v. City of Belvidere, 791 F.3d 764, 769 (7th Cir. 2015) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). The nonmoving party must “do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e) (1986)). Rule 56(e) provides that “[i]f a party fails to properly support an assertion of fact or fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact as required by Rule 56(c), the court may . . . consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion [or] grant summary judgment if the motion and supporting materials-including the facts considered undisputed-show that the movant is entitled to it . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-50.

         In viewing the facts presented on a motion for summary judgment, a court must construe all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all legitimate inferences in favor of that party. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; McDowell v. Vill. of Lansing, 763 F.3d 762, 764, 765 (7th Cir. 2014); Srail v. Vill. of Lisle, 588 F.3d 940, 948 (7th Cir. 2009). A court's role is not to evaluate the weight of the evidence, to judge the credibility of witnesses, or to determine the truth of the matter but instead to determine whether there is a genuine issue of triable fact. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50.

         MATERIAL FACTS

         The following are the material facts supported by the evidence of record.[1] Defendant Leatt Corporation is the manufacturer, seller, and distributer of the Moto GPX Leatt-Brace (Leatt Brace). (ECF 83-2, pp. 4-5 (Resp. to Inter. No. 4)).[2] The purpose of the Leatt Brace “is to reduce neck forces in various combinations and at various times during a crash” with the “aim [of reducing] the incidence and severity of cervical spine trauma, especially in situations involving an unrestrained human torso.” Id. at p. 12 (Resp. to Inter. No. 12).[3] The Leatt Brace is sometimes referred to as the “helmet for your neck.” Id. According to Leatt's white paper, “Research and Development Efforts towards the Production of the Leatt-Brace® Moto GPX Unrestrained Torso Neck Brace” (“White Paper”), fifteen criteria were used in developing the Leatt Brace, including the following four listed by Plaintiff in his brief:

- To find the best compromise between decreasing dangerous ranges of motion, neck forces and impulse momentum relationships, whilst maintaining driver/rider usability.
- To prevent extreme ranges of motion producing/associated injury.
- To maintain [range of motion (ROM)] to the extent that overly restricted ROM would result in high axial forces, i.e., to preserve the head's ability to move out of the way of the impact force.
- To allow the neck to continue to move in order to reduce compression injuries, but to prevent the extreme movement that can produce injury.

(ECF 83-3, p. 3-4 (White Paper, pp. 44-45)).[4]

         The White Paper further explains, in the section titled “Allowable ROM, ” that the Leatt Brace “restricts extreme ranges of movement that cause injury but allows sufficient freedom of movement so as not to transmit excessive forces to the helmet or to limit vision below that required for safe and competitive operation.” Id. at p. 5 (White Paper, p. 46).[5] In its sworn interrogatory response, Defendant explains, “The rationale of the Leatt-Brace® is to bring a rapidly moving, out-of-control head to a controlled stop and, in the process, to reduce or eliminate the potential for serious neck injury.” (ECF 63-1, p. 16 (Resp. to Inter. No. 12)). Defendant further explains in the interrogatory response:

In some accident scenarios, the cervical spine can experience forces that do not, at least initially, involve flexion or extension of the neck but instead are predominantly axial in nature. Axial force (measured in Newtons) is that which occurs in the longitudinal direction of the cervical spine, i.e., parallel to the spine. . . . When it is excessive, an axial load can damage the IV discs and cause them to rupture or, in extreme cases, cause the vertebral bodies to fracture. Fractured vertebral bodies can damage the associated spinal cord segment and result in paralysis or death.

Id. at p. 17.

         The American Motorcyclist Association does not require a rider to wear a neck brace because the track physicians determined that there was not “enough medical data to conclusively show that they were more beneficial from a medical scientific perspective.” (ECF 83-4, pp. 4-5 (Bodnar Dep., pp. 38-39)).[6]

         Plaintiff Brock C. Lyons was a professional ATV racer and motocross rider who began riding ATVs and motorcycles when he was three years old. (ECF 83-5, pp. 2-4 (Pl. Dep., pp. 69-71)). At age 16, Plaintiff began professionally racing ATVs; in 2012, he switched to racing motorcycles on the amateur level. Id. at pp. 3, 5, 21 (Pl. Dep., pp. 70, 72, 124).

         In 2007, Plaintiff purchased a Leatt Brace “to protect [his] neck and back.” Id. at pp. 13, 14 (Pl. Dep., pp. 105, 107). After purchasing the Leatt Brace, Plaintiff reviewed instructional videos and adjusted the thoracic struts of the brace pursuant to the recommendations. Id. at pp. 22, 23 (Pl. Dep., pp. 134, 135). Plaintiff testified that the Leatt Brace affected his ability to ride by limiting the range of motion in his neck, shoulders, and head. Id. at p. 24 (Pl. Dep., p. 143). However, Plaintiff wore the Leatt Brace “every time [he] rode” (except for snowmobiles) for seven years, from 2007 until his injury in 2014, including his last year of professional-level competition on the ATV racing circuit. (ECF 71-5, pp. 106, 113, 114, 115, 142 (Pl. Dep.)).

         On April 13, 2014, Plaintiff Brock C. Lyons was riding his motorcycle at Wildcat Creek MX track in Rossville, Indiana. (ECF 64-1, p. 7); (ECF 83-5, p. 149). He was wearing his Leatt Brace and his 6D helmet. (ECF 64-1, p. 7). When he rode over a “step up” jump, he landed “nose high” on the back tire at ¶ 55 degree attitude and was sent over the handle bars when he was unable to bring the nose of the bike down by getting his weight forward on the bike. (ECF 64-1, p. 7); (ECF 83-5, p. 149). Plaintiff estimates that the speed at which he left the motorcycle was approximately 40 to 45 miles per hour and that he traveled 10 to 15 feet in the air before he impacted the ground. (ECF 64-1, p. 10).

         The following excerpts from Plaintiff's deposition regarding the crash are cited by Plaintiff in his brief:

Q Now, I know the experience of having your hands, like, torn off the handlebars. You're trying to hold on.
A Uh-huh, yeah.
Q But you had no chance to hold on. You went straight over the bars with the slap.
A Yes, Yes.
Q What do you recall about first contacting the track?
A When I came off the bike?
Q Yes.
A I went to the left side, and I tried to tuck my head into an Army roll. Bear with me. Sorry. So when I tried to do that, I came down. And I remember hitting, and it peeled my head back fast. I tried to roll, and when I hit, it shoved my whole head back, and I wasn't able - typically an Army roll would be the best. I tried to tuck and roll, and I wasn't able to. It caught the ground and pushed my head back. And as soon as it did that, I felt everything go numb, and then I rolled down the hill.

(ECF 83-5, p. 33 (Pl. Dep., pp. 173: 6-25, 174:1-2)).

Q What impacted what to force your head back, as you've demonstrated?
A The ground. When I went to go down, I couldn't tuck my head. So my visor caught and - because all the weight, I'm going forward. It's head first. I'm trying to tuck so I can just do my roll out. And I couldn't tuck, and it just shoved my head back.
Q What was the attitude of the rest of your body when your helmet -
A Are you familiar with a scorpion?
Q Yes.
A Are you familiar with that term for -
Q I am.
A I did a scorpion.
Q Okay.
A Instead of tucking into a ball and rolling, my head hit, my back arched, my legs came up, and I looked ...

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