Motorcycle fuel valve should've closed automatically: plaintiff
|Design Defect, Motor Vehicle - Motorcycle, Motor Vehicle - Single Vehicle|
|Gilberto Arevalo, Hortencia Arevalo, and Eleazar Arevalo v. Kawasaki Motors Corporation USA and Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd., No. 59283|
|Brazoria County District Court, 149th, TX|
- Alberto L. Guerrero; Reed, McLain & Guerrero; McAllen, TX, for Gilberto Arevalo, Eleazar Arevalo, Hortencia Arevalo
- Jody R. Mask; Garcia & Karam; McAllen, TX, for Gilberto Arevalo, Hortencia Arevalo, Eleazar Arevalo
- Roger H. Reed; Reed, McLain & Guerrero; McAllen, TX, for Gilberto Arevalo, Hortencia Arevalo, Eleazar Arevalo
- Danielle Melton M.D.; Physical Medicine; Houston, TX called by: Alberto Guerrero, Roger Reed, Jody Mask
- Jerry Wallingford P.E.; Accident Reconstruction; San Antonio, TX called by: Alberto Guerrero, Roger Reed, Jody Mask
- Mark Ezra P.E.; Motorcycles; St. Louis, MO called by: Alberto Guerrero, Roger Reed, Jody Mask
- Jeffrey S. Hawkins; Prichard, Hawkins, McFarland & Young; San Antonio, TX, for Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd., Kawasaki Motors Corporation USA
- David R. Montpas; Prichard, Hawkins, McFarland & Young LLP; San Antonio, TX, for Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd., Kawasaki Motors Corporation USA
- David M. Prichard; Prichard, Hawkins, McFarland & Young LLP; San Antonio, TX, for Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd., Kawasaki Motors Corporation USA
- Rick Oxton; Motorcycles; Fort Myers Beach, FL called by: Jeffrey Hawkins, David Montpas, David Prichard
- Todd Hoover; Accident Reconstruction; Magnolia, TX called by: Jeffrey Hawkins, David Montpas, David Prichard
- Jeff Colwell Ph.D.; Cause & Origin; Phoenix, AZ called by: Jeffrey Hawkins, David Montpas, David Prichard
- Ed Cababa; Motorcycles; Yorba Linda, CA called by: Jeffrey Hawkins, David Montpas, David Prichard
On Aug. 23, 2009, plaintiff Eleazar Arevalo, 16, was riding a 2007 Kawasaki ZX-600J motorcycle on a freeway in Houston. The speed limit was 60 mph. Arevalo lost control and struck a concrete barrier, and either fuel or motor oil ignited. The motorcycle came to rest on top of him, and he sustained severe burns.
The motorcycle was manufactured by Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. and sold by Kawasaki Motors Corp. USA.
Through his parents, Eleazar sued the two companies for products liability alleging a design defect. He claimed that the fire started when the fuel hose tore and fuel ignited. The fuel hose leads from the fuel tank "petcock valve" to the engine, via a fuel filter and fuel pump. The plaintiffs' motorcycle fuel system design expert, Mark A.M. Ezra, opined that the petcock valve should have been designed to close automatically upon vacuum loss, to prevent fuel from being released in an accident and causing a fire.
The plaintiffs' accident reconstruction expert, Jerry Wallingford, opined that the motorcycle's speed could not be determined, but that the front wheel went over the barrier first, which was more consistent with the plaintiffs' theory of how the fire started than with the defendants' theory.
The defendants denied any defect. Their motorcycle fuel system design expert, Ed Cababa, and their fire cause-and-origin expert, Jeff Colwell, said the crankcase was shattered in the accident, releasing motor oil; that the fire probably started when motor oil came into contact with the hot exhaust system; that the fuel hose was intact during the fire and did not leak; and that the fuel hose broke only after the fire began.
The defense accident reconstruction expert opined that the motorcycle was traveling between 64 mph and 85 mph before Eleazar braked; that it hit the barrier at 37 to 47 mph; and it flipped over the barrier, with the crankcase striking a bridge abutment and releasing oil. He said contributing factors in the accident were excessive speed and an unlicensed, 16-year-old rider.
The defense asserted comparative fault of Eleazar's parents, for knowingly allowing Eleazar to ride the motorcycle on public roads, despite his age, lack of a driver's license, and lack of formal motorcycle training. The defense also asserted that Eleazar was at fault for riding the motorcycle and for doing so unsafely.
The defense also noted that the motorcycle's previous owner had modified it for drag racing. The defense called an expert on motorcycle handling and modifications, Rick Oxton, who testified about these modifications and said they were significant.
The motorcycle came to rest on top of Eleazar, who sustained third-degree burns over 45 percent of his body, including the right side of his face. He also lost his right ear and seven toes. In addition, he sustained a broken leg, but the plaintiff wasn't seeking damages for that injury.
Eleazar underwent multiple operations, including skin grafts, and he claimed he will need additional skin grafts.
The life care planner, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist, testified to a life care plan of about $2 million.
The paid or incurred medical bills, including those from before Eleazar turned 18, were stipulated at about $989,000.
The plaintiffs' attorneys did not argue for any amounts on the noneconomic damages. According to defense, the plaintiffs' attorneys did argue that the awards should be consistent with the medical expenses.
The defense asked the jury to be fair and reasonable, if it awarded anything, defense counsel said.
The jury did not find any design defect in the motorcycle, at the time it was in possession of Kawasaki Motors, that was a producing cause of the injury.
Kawasaki Motors was the only defendant submitted to the jury, but both defendants would have been liable if the jury had found a defect.
This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff's counsel and defense counsel.