The background: A boy 12 years old at the moment of the accident had claimed damages as well as compensation for pain and suffering after having sustained severe injuries following a fall with his mountain bike. The frame of his mountain bike had broken after the landing of the front wheel (also referred to as "wheelie"), i.e. a riding manoeuvre on the rear wheel only.
The decision of the Nurnberg Higher Regional Court (judgement of May 20, 2014, file no.: 4 U 206/14) can be subsumed, according to Zedler, under one sentence: In the event, the user of a mountain bike falls due to frame breakage, the manufacturer of the mountain bike is liable (pursuant to section 1 (1), section 3 (1) lit.b of the German Product Liability Law) for the material and immaterial damage resulting thereof, if they have failed to point out in the user manual that the bicycle is not suitable for being used for tricks and riding manoeuvres usually possible for a mountain bike.
The judgement of the Higher Regional Court is based on a judgement of the Federal Court of Justice of Germany (BGH) according to which a manufacturer, as a fundamental matter, is liable for any damage incurred as a result of a defective product. A product is defective, even if the consumer has not been provided with clear information about how to use the product (BGH, judgement of February 05, 2013, file no. VI ZR 1/12).
That’s the legal wording so far. But what does that mean for the practice of the bicycle manufacturers? According to Zedler’s statement, it is absolutely necessary to make clear in every detail in the respective user manuals, for which use a bicycle is suitable and for which use it is not.
The user manuals made by the Zedler institute for consumers of the bicycle sector are being revised in this regard, i.e. this important issue is incorporated in the user manuals "Brand Basic" and "Individual" from now on. At the same time a procedure has been developed in view of avoiding such liability cases in future.
Expression of incomprehension
Nevertheless, this far-reaching judgement is surprising for Zedler. "I would have never expected such a judgement after my more than 20 years of experience in court". In addition: "I have given lectures on the effects of the German Product Liability Law on the bicycle sector for years at various conferences. However, do we really come up to US-American conditions? Everyone has laughed at the story of the cat in the microwave oven. Right now we are at a point where product liability in the bicycle sector is on exactly this way".
Author: Juergen Wetzstein