Bell Sports settles product liability lawsuit involving ‘universal’ pedal

INDIANAPOLIS (BRAIN) — Bell Sports has settled a product liability lawsuit filed by an Indiana woman who said her Bell Universal pedal broke while she was riding, causing a crash and injuries. The suit says the woman suffered damages totaling nearly $5 million.

Bell’s universal pedal fits both ½-inch and 9/16-inch cranks, thanks to the included crank adapters; the non-standard axles of the pedals then screw on the adapters.

The trial was scheduled to begin Dec. 5 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana in Indianapolis. But on Tuesday, both sides told the court they had agreed to a settlement. The court gave them 30 days to file a general motion to dismiss the case.

A spokesman for Bell, which is owned by Vista Outdoor, said the company would not comment on the settlement. Terms were not released.

According to the complaint, plaintiff Casey Sandlin crashed in August 2018 when the aluminum Bell pedal on her bicycle “suffered catastrophic failure.” The lawsuit alleges that she “suffered traumatic, permanent and painful injuries, including a traumatic brain injury, incurred medical expenses, pain and suffering and other property damages.”

In a July 2021 filing, Sandlin’s attorneys said she suffered damages totaling $4,789,040.

The suit says Bell’s pedal and adapter system are defective and “unreasonably dangerous.”

In court documents, Bell said it jointly developed, designed and marketed the pedals and adapters with manufacturer Ningo Detai Machinery Co. Ltd. in YinJiang Ningbo, China. Bell denied that the pedals were defective or that it was responsible for Sandlin’s injuries and claimed that it did not manufacture the pedals. Ningo Detai is not a party to the case.

An expert for Sandlin testified in advance that the right pedal on Sandlin’s bicycle had partially detached from the crank adapter, leading to a fatigue crack in the adapter and its eventual failure and the pedal becoming detached from the bike when Sandlin was riding it.

The expert (Allen Cotte, who writes a regular column for BRAIN on bicycle patents and who also frequently serves as an expert) testified that the threads connecting the adapter to the pedal spindle were not the “self-tapping” threads used on bicycle pedals more than century (left-hand thread on left-hand pedals, right-hand thread on right-hand pedals). This traditional thread orientation is designed to take advantage of the “precession effect” to prevent the pedals from pulling out the thread under normal use. Bell’s universal adapter uses a threaded shaft where the adapter threads into a hole in the pedal spindle. This thread orientation created a self-loosening connection on both the right and left pedals, Cotte concluded in a report filed with the court.

Photo of the Bell universal pedal adapter and spindle from a lawsuit.

However, the court later sided with Bell Sports’ motion and excluded Coté’s testimony about the precession effect, which Bell’s lawyers said was an untested theory. One of Bell’s expert witnesses did not dispute the precession effect explanation, but said that the thread locking solution offered on the inserts would prevent the pedal from loosening.

Another plaintiff’s report filed in court, by Material and Engineering Group LLC of Belmont, Mass., concluded that the adapter was made of metal that was hardened, making it too brittle for the application and susceptible to fatigue failure.

The court excluded a portion of the MEG report from evidence at Bell’s request. Bell called the report “scientific conjecture” and said, among other things, that the author of the report had no specific knowledge of the industry, did not test his theory and did not know if the adapter deviated from manufacturing specifications.

The court also sided with the plaintiff, excluding the testimony of several of Bell’s witnesses.

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