Finlayson-Goff v. AGV

On May 25, 2006, Karen and Jeff Goff left their home in the middle of the afternoon on a motorcycle trip from Indiana to North Carolina.  After driving for a few hours, at about 6:45 P.M., they were exiting Interstate 65 south of Indianapolis (in Austin, Indiana), when the accident occurred.  As always, both Jeff and Karen were wearing all the appropriate motorcycle gear including boots,gloves, helmets, jackets, glasses, and jeans.   

Karen was following Jeff as they exited the highway at Exit 34B.  The road surface of the exit ramp was wet; as Jeff was traversing the ramp (at a speed of about 35mph), he applied his brakes to adjust his speed and immediately felt the rear wheel on his cycle start to slide-out a little. 

Right after Jeff experienced the rear wheel of

 AGV Subject helmet
 AGV Subject Helmet
 E2 Testing
 E2 Roll-Off Testing set-up
Exemplar testing
 Exemplar Helmet Testing
 Alt Design Testing
 Alternative Design Testing
 Alt Design measured
 Alternative Design measured
 Compare Sub v Alt Design
 Compare Alt Design vs. Sub Helmet
his motorcycle sliding-out, he looked in his side mirror and saw Karen’s motorcycle down on the road and sliding toward him.Jeff stopped as quickly as he could and ran back to Karen who was lying, unconscious and face-down on the road - without her helmet on her head

There were two eyewitnesses to this horrible incident. They were driving on I-65 in the same direction and a short distance behind the Goff’s, and they watched them exit the highway.  One witness estimated that the motorcycles speed as it exited the road was about 30 mph and the other witness estimated that when he saw Karen’s motorcycle slide out from under her, its speed was no more than 20 mph.  Both witnesses saw the motorcycle fall over on its left side, and saw Karen hit the ground on her back.  Immediately after she hit the ground, the witness’s saw Karen’s helmet come off her head and she then tumbled several times across the exit ramp. 

Karen was taken by ambulance to the University Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky.  She remained unconscious during the drive to the hospital and was admitted with a Glasgow Coma score of 3T.  Upon admission to the hospital, because of her decreased level of consciousness, an emergency tracheotomy was performed.  The nurses and physicians observed that Karen had lacerations to her head, including areas along the left temporal/occipital region of her head.  The emergency personnel immediately ordered a significant number of radiology studies to assist them in developing a course of treatment.  Doctors at the University Hospital made the following diagnoses.

1.       Karen Finlayson-Goff suffered fracture of the left temporal bone with resultant epidural hematoma.
2.       A right frontal subdural hematoma with intraparenchymal contusions of the right temporal lobe.
3.       These injuries and/or the product of these injuries caused widely scattered axonal injury throughout the brain. 

As detailed by several of Plaintiff’s experts, the primary site of head impact was in the area where the skull was fractured: the left temporal bone.  This impact caused the epidural hematoma found below the fracture line.  Further, the impact causing the left sided injury then caused injury to the opposite side of Karen’s head - known as a contrecoup injury.  Thus, the excessive acceleration due to impact to Karen’s bare head on the left caused excessive acceleration of the brain to the opposite side - leading to the right frontal subdural hematoma, and intraparenchymal contusions of the right temporal lobe.  Finally, diffuse subarachnoid hemorrhage and punctuate areas of intraparenchymal hemorrhage are consistent with DAI caused by shearing mechanism when the head impact, skull fracture and distortion of the cranial cavity occurred to the left temporal region. 

So What Happened?

The helmet Karen was wearing at the time of her accident was one that she had owned and used for several years.  It was manufactured in 2000.  It is known in the trade as a “shorty helmet” or half helmet.  This helmet was designed and marketed by AGV S.p.A.  Its size is extra small.  An analysis of the few marks found on the rear of the helmet, along with its inappropriate fit (because of design flaws) on Karen, demonstrate why this tragic injury occurred.   

In light of the eyewitness testimony that Karen was wearing her helmet as she fell to the ground, given the scratches made on the rear edge of the helmet and that the shock-attenuating liner inside the shell had minimal impact damage and that the witnesses saw the helmet come off immediately after contact with the ground, the question is why did the helmet come off?   

The very obvious problem with this helmet’s strap design is that there is a significant amount of play or looseness in the strap which is designed to attach the rear aspect of the helmet to the strap that passes under the person’s jaw.  This then explains the ease with which this helmet came off Karen’s head in this incident.  

One of the plaintiffs’ experts retained the services of a certified helmet testing company, Southwest Research Institute, to conduct what is a standard “roll-off test” specified by the Snell Memorial Foundation helmet standard.  The test is described below.

Positional Stability (Roll-Off) Test
A head form is mounted on a stand so that it points face downward at an angle of 135 degrees.  The helmet is placed on the head form and the straps and buckles adjusted to obtain a "best fit".  A wire rope is hooked to the rear edge of the helmet and brought forward so that its free end runs across the helmet and downward towards the floor.  The free end of the rope has a mechanical stop with a 4 kg weight resting on the stop.  The weight is raised to a prescribed height and dropped onto the stop.  The resulting shock places a rotational load on the helmet.  The helmet may be shifted, but must not roll off the head form.  Next the head form is rotated 180 degrees, the helmet adjusted, and tested with the wire rope hooked to the front edge of the helmet and the test is repeated.  As in the first case, the helmet may be shifted but must not roll off the head form. 

The test results established that the AGV model failed this test.  The helmet was easily pulled off the head form.  The alternatively designed helmet complied with the applicable safety standard.  The primary difference between the AGV model helmet and the Vega helmet (Alternative Design helmet) is shown in the photos: the strap is attached to the shell much further rearward on the Vega model. 

“The first order of design is to construct a helmet that will remain fastened and stay relatively firmly in place during foreseeable accident events.  Once that design is accomplished, and it requires a careful consideration of significant variables in head/helmet shape, retention strap configurations, and attachment methods, the next order of design is to furnish a helmet system that is well designed to address foreseeable impact circumstances in real world accidents–within limits of acceptable size and weight.  Typically, in designing motorcycle helmets, impact protection requires a relatively stiff shell in combination with a shock attenuating liner.  The goal of this system is to allow for protection against penetrating objects as well as the attenuation of impact forces to the wearer’s head and brain.  How well any helmet meets these goals is dependent upon a host of design selections.  In part, the variability in helmet safety is predicated upon the testing standards a manufacturer chooses to build its helmet to meet and exceed.  Most safely designed motorcycle helmets are intended to mitigate against the forces and mechanics that produce skull fractures, as well as a host of injuries to the brain.”  These design goals were not met with the AGV Basic Rider helmet and caused Karen’s injuries.

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