Douglasville, GA—A Georgia jury Wednesday found Suzuki Motor Corp. and its American subsidiary responsible for the motorcycle crash that shattered a Georgia man’s spine, handing down a $12.5 million verdict at trial against the companies. Johns v. Suzuki, et al., 14SV000043.
Douglas County State Court jurors deliberated for less than five hours hours before concluding defective brakes on Adrian Johns’ 2006 Suzuki GSX R-1000 motorcycle caused the wreck that broke Johns’ back, left him with mobility problems, and rendered him unable to return to his postal career.
The jury’s award includes $10.5 million to Johns and $2 million to his wife, Gwen Johns. However, the jury rejected a claim for potential punitives in the case and apportioned 49% of responsibility for the crash to Johns, likely reducing the post-verdict award.
Cochran & Edwards’ Randy Edwards, representing the Johns family, requested just over $14 million in compensatory damages, plus a finding that punitives were warranted, during Tuesday’s closing arguments.
Johns claims his crash was caused by a front brake defect that Suzuki knew about months before the August 2013 crash, yet the company failed to promptly warn its riders.
Suzuki ultimately recalled more than 200,000 motorcycles in October 2013, two months after Johns’ wreck. The defect at the center of the recall affects GSX motorcycles made between 2004 and 2013.
Wednesday’s verdict wrapped a three-week trial that focused largely on whether Suzuki acted properly when it learned of the brake problem and whether that defect actually caused Johns’ crash.
The defense contended reckless driving, and not a brake defect led to Johns’ wreck. During Monday’s closing arguments, Frost Brown Todd’s Randall Riggs told jurors changes in Johns’ version of events, and the fact that Johns had not immediately blamed the crash on brake failure, undercut his credibility regarding what happened.
Riggs reminded jurors of police testimony that Johns said at the crash scene that he’d hit a patch of gravel just before the wreck and did not mention any problem with his brakes. “If you’ve just had an accident and you believe it had been caused by your brake failing, which would have been a significant surprise, wouldn’t you have told somebody that asked you what happened?” Riggs asked. “Wouldn’t that have been one of the first things you told them? My brake failed. He didn’t tell anybody at the scene.”
Riggs said evidence of skid marks, as well as the findings of defense accident reconstruction expert Todd Hoover, proved that a brake defect did not cause the accident. “Mr. Hoover is the only expert who has even attempted to reconstruct the crash, and no one disagrees with his work,” Riggs said. “Doesn’t that tell you that Mr. Hoover is right about that?”
However, Edwards criticized Hoover’s accident conclusions as relying on a string of improbable coincidences. Edwards said post-crash testing, by contrast, showed Johns’ brakes weren’t working properly and Johns’ description of a front brake failure paralleled reports of similar incidents by other GSX motorcycle riders.
“Adrian’s testimony that his brakes did not work right on August 12, the testimony of [two other Suzuki motorcycle riders] who say the exact same thing happened to them, and all of these reports that Suzuki has, are far more credible than the bought and paid-for opinion of Todd Hoover, that [John’s claimed failure] can never happen,” Edwards said.
Instead, Edwards said Suzuki’s own decisions caused the wreck. Edwards reminded jurors of internal memoranda he said showed the company ordered hundreds of thousands of new parts in preparation for a recall, but failed to timely warn consumers of the defect and rejected a prompt recall rollout over concerns of how it would affect the company’s dealerships during the traditionally busy spring sales season.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve got to tell you, in the 26 years I’ve been practicing law, this is the worst failure to warn case, not that I have ever seen, but that I have ever heard of,” Edwards said. “This is like a landlord not telling a new tenant that your heater spits out carbon monoxide, and a family dies the first night. This is outrageous.”
CVN has contacted attorneys in the case for comment, and will update this article with their statements.
CVN recorded the trial and will publish it as soon as possible.
Email Arlin Crisco at email@example.com.
Adrian and Gwen Johns are represented by Cochran & Edwards LLC’s Randy Edwards and Paul Piland, and Sherrod & Bernard’s John Sherrod.
Suzuki Motor of America Inc. and Suzuki Motor Corp. are represented by Michael Goldman and Zachary Wilson and Frost Brown Todd LLC’s Randall R. Riggs and Jeff Mortier.
CVN is recording the trial gavel-to-gavel and will publish trial video as soon as possible after the verdict.