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Wacky warning dept.: Steven Morris v. Harley-Davidson Motor Co.

Sean Wajert tells us of a remarkable failure-to-warn case, Steven Morris v. Harley-Davidson Motor Co., et al., No. 3:09-cv-74 (M.D. Ga.).

Harley-Davidson's warnings included:

  • A warning in the owners' manual that exceeding the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating of 420 additional pounds over curb weight can affect stability and handling, which could result in death or serious injury.
  • An explanation in the owner's manual that the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating is the sum of the weight of the motorcycle, accessories, and the maximum weight of the rider, passenger and cargo that can be safely carried.
  • GVWR is shown on the information plate located on the frame steering head.
  • A warning in the owner's manual stating "Do not pull a trailer with a motorcycle. Pulling a trailer can cause tire overload, reduced braking efficiency and adversely affect stability and handling, which could result in death or serious injury."
  • A warning inside the storage compartment on the back end of the motorcycle that overloading the comparment with too much weight could cause loss of control and death or serious injury.

The 250-pound Morris, however, never read the Owner's Manual, and claims not to have seen any of the warnings on the bike itself. So when he took his 204-pound wife for a ride on his Ultra Classic motorcycle while pulling a trailer, and had a crash that killed his wife and injured himself, he blames Harley-Davidson Motor for "failure to warn." Silly enough, but the fact that the court has let the case proceed demonstrates that the legal community misunderstands the English-language concept of "failure." It's not clear what Harley could have done differently other than put its purchasers through a mandatory five-hour class.

Of course, the real-world reason that people don't read their owner's manuals is because failure-to-warn litigation has overloaded the manuals with pointless and obvious warnings, making the manuals bulky and intimidating. If owner's manuals could focus on the most important issues without fear of liability for failure to include everything, people would be more likely to read them and pay attention to the warnings. Just another way that trial lawyers have put profits ahead of people.

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.