The Court of Appeal has given judgment in the case of Baker v KTM Sportmotorcycle UK Limited and Anr and awarded damages to the claimant, Andrew Baker, on the basis that his motorbike had a manufacturing defect that caused his brakes to seize, resulting in his accident and injuries.
Mr Baker was riding his KTM Supermoto 990 in Derby in 2010 when the incident occurred. His front brakes suddenly failed and he was thrown over the front of the motorbike and onto the road, sustaining injuries to his left arm and hand. This was of particular significance to him as he was a surgeon so manual dexterity was vital.
He had purchased the bike second hand in 2009. Following the accident, he brought a product liability claim against the manufacturer, KTM Sportmotorcycle, arguing that the incident was due to a severe defect in the motorcycle. As the manufacturer, KTM was liable for his injuries.
In 2015 the case went to trial at county court level. The judge awarded Mr Baker damages as he was ‘satisfied that the corrosion happened as a result of a design defect combined with faulty construction or the use of inappropriate or faulty materials, and that this corrosion was the probable cause of the brakes seizing’.
KTM appealed against the decision on the grounds that there was no evidence that the corrosion was caused by any defect in the motorcycle. The matter was heard in the Court of Appeal which rejected KTM’s appeal. Lord Justice Hamblen described the bike as a ‘recently-purchased, low-mileage motorcycle which had been properly serviced and maintained’ ie one in which corrosion should not have been a significant feature. He said that as the bike was less than two years old, there was corrosion ‘when there ought not to have been’.
He then went on to clarify that the original judge was entitled to infer that there must have been a defect in the braking system of this particular motorcycle, and that the previous decision showed ‘no error in law’.
Philippa Luscombe, a partner in the personal injury team at Pennington Manches LLP, comments: “Broadly speaking, claimants can bring a product liability claim where they suffer injury arising out of a defect in an item or product. The doctrine of strict liability applies – they do not need to prove how or when the defect arose, simply that it was present and caused the injury. In this case, corrosion caused the brake failure. This would not have been a defect present at manufacture. However, because the court held that the corrosion could only have occurred due to a design defect and issues with the quality of materials used, this was judged to be sufficient to found a claim. Cases of this type are usually focused on very specific and identifiable defects. Arguably, this ruling may extend the scope of product liability claims where the ultimate factor causing the product to fail and cause injury may be influenced by a number of things in the design and construction process rather than one specific identified failure.”