Suzuki ordered to pay $8 million after motorcycle brake problems led to 2013 Cypress motorcycle crash
A Santa Ana jury on Monday ordered Suzuki Motor of America to pay roughly $6 million in punitive damages in a civil lawsuit by a motorcycle rider who was injured when the front brakes failed to work, causing a collision.
The same jurors on Friday decided that Suzuki also should pay about $2 million in compensatory damages to Thomas Joseph Soulliere in connection with a June 8, 2013 traffic accident in Cypress.
According to the lawsuit, Soulliere was riding his 2009 Suzuki GSXR 600 motorcycle southbound on Valley View, below the speed limit, when a vehicle pulled out of a parking lot in front of him. Soulliere hit his brakes, but they failed to respond, and he “violently collided” with the vehicle and was thrown from the motorcycle.
An inspection of the motorcycle after the accident found that the brakes had not operated properly, according to the lawsuit. Soulliere’s attorneys alleged that Suzuki knew the brakes on that model were defective, with a brake piston in the front brake master cylinder that was subject to corrosion, a condition that could generate gas in the brake system, and “reduced the braking power to the front brakes,” according to the lawsuit.
A recall that included the model of bike used by Soulliere was instituted by Suzuki on Oct. 18, 2013, according to court filings. Soulliere’s attorneys argued that the recall was “not timely,” alleging that Suzuki was aware of the defect prior to the collision.
On Monday morning, Soulliere’s attorneys asked jurors to back upwards of $100 million in punitive damages, arguing that for a company of Suzuki’s size, “a couple million bucks is a slap on the wrist.”
“Fight for public safety, fight for holding corporations accountable,” T. Gabe Houston, one of Soulliere’s attorneys, told jurors. “Your voice will never be as persuasive as it will be today.”
Attorney Lori Schweitzer, who represented Suzuki, told jurors that the 2013 recall was voluntary, and noted that the company was never fined in connection with the brake issue.
“Suzuki stands by its products,” Schweitzer said after the verdict. “We are disappointed and we plan to appeal.”
Thomas Feher, another attorney who represented Soulliere during the trial, said he was pleased that “this jury spoke up for Joey and other motorcycle riders.” Fehere alleged that Suzuki had known about the brake issues for at least a decade, and contended that the recall did not address the entire problem.