GENESEO – When Pamela SinClair retired last May after 40 years at Kodak, she and longtime partner Harold Morris couldn’t wait to spend their golden years exploring America’s back roads together on the Harley motorcycle. -Davidson of Morris.
But those shots were ripped off last summer on a stretch of rural Pennsylvania highway when Morris’s motorcycle rolled off the roadway, hit an embankment and overturned, throwing Morris and SinClair. Morris suffered serious injuries that took months to recover, and SinClair was killed. She was 63 years old.
Now Morris, a Caledonia resident, is suing the iconic motorcycle maker and others, claiming the company sold him a faulty product that caused the crash that killed SinClair.
“(I want) all parties involved to take responsibility and make sure that none of their other clients have the same issues, hardships, tragedy that I and the SinClairs have,” Morris said, speaking to the Livingston County Courthouse Monday. alongside his lawyer and members of the SinClair family.
An early draft of Morris’ lawsuit sought $ 100 million in punitive damages, but the version that was ultimately filed in Livingston County Supreme Court on Monday did not specify an amount.
“What we’re hoping to get out of this is an explanation of what happened in this particular case – it’s the small target,” Morris attorney Paul Edelstein said. “The bigger goal is to make sure that this doesn’t happen to someone else and to make sure that other people are aware who may not be aware that this thing is happening.”
Edelstein continued, “We want to let it be known that whoever has had this tricycle and has had this experience, to introduce themselves, to let us know, to give us this information. We also want to make sure that anyone who owns this trike understands that this has happened. It is not an anomaly. This has happened to Harold twice and it has happened to a number of other trikes, not according to us, but according to Harley-Davidson and the National Highway (Traffic) Safety Administration.
“ An unexpected change in direction of the vehicle ”
The central argument of Morris’ lawsuit is that the software that controlled his trike’s brake system incorrectly responded to a faulty rear wheel speed sensor by activating one of the trike’s rear brakes. This activation caused “an unexpected change in the direction of the vehicle,” which Morris’s lawyer said caused Morris to crash.
The make and model in question was a 2021 Tri Glide Ultra motorcycle.
In addition to the June 2020 accident in Pennsylvania that killed SinClair, Edelstein said the faulty software also caused a crash in February 2019 as Morris and SinClair drove the trike in Florida.
In that previous incident, one of the trike’s rear brakes unexpectedly stuck, Edelstein said, causing it to veer hard to one side. Morris and SinClair both sustained serious injuries in the crash and racked up medical bills, the lawsuit said, in excess of $ 150,000.
Morris tried to get Harley-Davidson to cover his and SinClair’s medical expenses after the 2019 crash, but the company refused, saying there was no evidence the crash was caused by the problem of rear wheel braking.
In December 2019 – about 10 months after the Morris and SinClair accident in Florida – Harley-Davidson recalled more than 12,600 of its tricycles for the problem with rear wheel braking, which it said “may increase the risk. accident ”.
After receiving the recall notice, Morris took his trike in Stan’s Harley-Davidson of Batavia, where he had first purchased it in 2018. According to the suit, Stan found “diagnostic trouble codes of fault concerning the configuration of the rear brake of the motorcycle and the anti-brake. system ”and proceeded to clear the codes, but never actually tested the trike.
Morris recovered his trike in December 2019. Six months later, he pulled off the road in Pennsylvania in the crash that would kill SinClair and cause him serious injury.
In addition to the Harley Davidson Motor Company, Morris’ lawsuit names defendants Stan’s Harley Davidson in Batavia and Robert Bosch LLP, a Michigan company that developed traction control software that is believed to have been a contributing factor in 2019 and 2020. crashes.
A spokesperson for Robert Bosch declined to comment on Tuesday.
“As a matter of principle, Bosch does not comment on matters of dispute,” he said.
Stan’s Harley-Davidson owner Darryl Horzempa declined to comment on Wednesday, instead referring questions to his lawyer, Aimee Koch, partner of Osborn Reed & Burke in Rochester.
Koch made the following statement on Wednesday:
“Stan’s Harley Davidson has provided countless customers with quality service since it opened in 1958. Stan’s Harley Davidson supports the service they provided to Mr. Morris. We will not try this case in the media and believe that the efforts of the plaintiff’s lawyer to do so are doing his client, all parties and the jury community a disservice.
Although the Harley-Davidson Motor Company did not respond to a request for comment, recall documents on file with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show the company was aware of the problem with the brakes on its trikes as early as October 2018. , when an owner reported their traction control system unexpectedly activated and caused the trike to crash, causing personal injury.
Over the next year, Harley-Davidson became aware of four more incidents involving the unexpected activation of the trike’s traction control systems, according to records. These findings led to the company’s decision to issue a recall at the end of 2019.
Edelstein said he strongly suspected there were more than five incidents involving the braking problem.
“For Harley-Davidson, issuing a recall notice on 12,000 machines is probably a lot of work,” he said. “The fact that they issued a recall for 12,000 machines tells me there must be more than five cases.”
Edelstein said he informed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of his client’s accident 11 months ago, but has yet to receive anything from the federal agency.
“It could be just because they are overworked and overwhelmed … but they are the ones who really should be given an independent responsibility to see what happened here and prevent it from happening again,” did he declare.
A spokesperson for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration declined to comment on Wednesday.
Morris remembers nothing of the accident that killed his partner and left him with lingering injuries.
He knows he spent four weeks in a hospital in Erie, Pa. After the crash, before being transferred to a Long Island hospital for another four weeks.
“Then the insurance company decided I shouldn’t be in the hospital anymore and sent me home,” he said. “When I got back here, I was at Strong (hospital) for about two, 2-1 / 2 weeks as well.”
Morris said his recovery was going “fairly well”, although he still suffers from stiff shoulders and back.
“I can move, walk. Not as good as before, ”said the 75-year-old. “There are a lot of hobbies that I can no longer participate in. Physically, my body won’t take it.
A few weeks ago Morris sold his other motorcycle and the trailer he and SinClair used to haul their toys on camping trips to Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.
“Camping alone is not fun at all,” he said. “I wasn’t going to do it anymore.”
As Morris’s physical wounds continue to heal, the loss of SinClair – Morris repeatedly referred to her as his wife during Monday’s press conference – will likely still be present.
Morris said he wanted people to remember how caring SinClair was, how she helped and cared for others.
“How she loved her granddaughter,” he said, choking. “This kind of things.”
SinClair’s sister Becky Schroeder said her sister was a daughter, mother and grandmother. She worked hard all her life and loved the camaraderie of the rides she did with Morris and their friends. She was particularly unpretentious, Schroeder said, and reportedly hated the publicity from Monday’s press conference.
Schroeder feels the loss of SinClair every day – “It’s hard to lose a sister,” she says – and suspects it will be for the rest of her life.
“It’s just awful. Anytime you lose someone like this, your family’s tapestry will never be the same again. Pammy was – she was all good, ”Schroeder said. “… Someone did not do their job and as a result we lost a very important part of our family. Harold’s future is gone, our future will always be changed because of it.