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Harley-Davidson counsel grills plaintiff's expert in trial in Marshall

By Robin Y. Richardson
Jan. 13, 2017 at 4 a.m.


Harley-Davidson should've been the standard of all motorcycles when it came to installing all of their bikes with an antilock brake system, Dr. Jack Lenox, a medical doctor and mechanical engineer, testified Thursday on behalf of the plaintiffs as the personal injury case of an East Texas couple against the world's top motorcycle manufacturer continued in Marshall's federal court.

"The minute Harley-Davidson says, yes (to police departments), we're going to give you the motorcycles with ABS and the police say give me more, then yes, that's all I need (to show ABS was a phenomenal safety design solution when it comes to reducing motorcycle injuries and fatalities)," Lenox said, answering questions from Harley-Davidson's counsel, Ernest "Skip" Eubanks Jr., of the law firm of Rumberger Kirk & Caldwell in Orlando.

Lenox was retained by the plaintiffs Mark and Pamela Jones, of Pittsburg, to explain the "Engineering Design Hazard Analysis" safety standard. The couple filed suit against Harley in June 2014, claiming that the company's lack of an antilock brake system on the Harley motorcycle the couple purchased, cost them serious injuries, following a near fatal collision in 2013. The plaintiffs are seeking $9.6 million in the case.

On Thursday, Eubanks, representing the motorcycle manufacturer, questioned the credibility of the witness, suggesting he only relied on documents provided by the plaintiff's attorney Nelson Roach to formulate his opinion rather than conducting research for himself.

"In this case, regarding your opinion whether the motorcycle was defective, you've done no testing, no experiments, you've never looked at the motorcycle," Eubanks asked.

"Correct," Lenox said.

"Before being paid by the lawyer in this case, you didn't know anything about motorcycle ABS did you?" Eubanks asked. "You had zero experience on motorcycle brakes?"

"That's correct," Lenox said.

Lenox said although he relied on material and videos provided to him by the plaintiff's attorney, he also relied on his own experience, which includes teaching engineering ethics and working for the president of John Deere on a hazard analysis project.

"My wide experience personally came from the privilege of working for John Deere where safety was never an option," Lenox said.

He said the John Deere project he worked on 20 years ago involved minimizing the risk of the vehicle rolling over. And although a couple of decades old, the experience he gained was still applicable and beneficial for his role in the Harley case, today.

"He wouldn't have capsized, he wouldn't be injured and we wouldn't be here today (if the motorcycle had ABS)," Lenox said his understanding was about the case.

Lenox said it's a no-brainer that no matter the death rate of motorcyclists without ABS, if one had to make an emergency stop, they'd prefer not to have their bike fall over.

"You've not done a single bit of research on this have you?" Eubanks asked after interrogating the witness about material he reviewed in the case, but couldn't directly recall.

"I have not, but I've looked at the literature," Lenox said, explaining he's not required to commit everything to memory.

"But, again, I go back to the police. They're putting their lives (at risk) and they want ABS on their motorcycle," Lenox said.

The trial continues at 9 a.m. today in the Sam B. Hall Jr. Federal Building and United States Courthouse in Marshall. Visiting Judge Robert Schroeder III, of Texarkana, is presiding.

Judge Schroeder is giving jurors in the case the rare opportunity to also question witnesses during the trial, following the attorneys' questioning.

"I have a practice of allowing jurors to also ask questions of the witnesses," he said, expounding that in his practice, the opportunity has proved to be effective for jurors when it comes to trying to deliberation on a verdict.

"We're going to do it in this case," he said, explaining the questions from jurors will be submitted to him at the conclusion of the witness' testimony with attorneys. Judge Schroeder said he will determine what questions will be directed to the witness from jurors.

"It's important for you not to be offended if I don't ultimately ask the question that's been written down," he advised jurors. "There may be any number of reasons that the court doesn't ultimately ask the questions that are submitted."

The judge said he's done this many times in the past and the vast majority of questions do get asked and are helpful to the juror. He said it is his hope that it's helpful in this case, too. He said his only concern is that it may be time consuming.

"Don't feel compelled to ask if you don't think it's necessary," Schroeder said.

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