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Landmark $161M Verdict Against Suzuki in Personal Injury and Product Liability Case

The Suzuki GSX motorcycle had a widespread braking defect that affected eight model years, from 2004 to 2013. The front brake master cylinder didn’t have uniform surface treatment, and the brake fluid in the motorcycles were prone to absorbing moisture, leading to corrosion of the brake piston. This corrosion caused the brakes to malfunction, leading to “spongy” braking — where it takes longer for motorcycles to come to a complete stop — if not total brake failure. Internal documents from Suzuki Motor Corporation showed that the corporation knew of the problem at least five years before they finally issued a recall. Instead of fixing the problem, however, they tried to bury their heads in the sand and litigate their way out of it.

In 2013, Joey Soulliere, a 27-year-old salon owner, had unknowingly bought one of Suzuki’s defective bikes. One morning, while riding his motorcycle to work, an SUV pulled out about 125 feet in front of him. He was traveling 25-30 miles per hour and should have had plenty of time to stop and avoid a collision. However, his brakes suddenly failed. He slammed into the SUV, causing catastrophic injuries to his right leg and left ankle.

Gabe Houston was referred Joey’s case by a colleague. As a solo practitioner, Gabe sought additional resources to help litigate his case, so he partnered with The Simon Law Group, longtime friends and colleagues.

In 2018, after Suzuki’s repeated refusals to mediate, Gabe and The Simon Law Group took the case to trial. The team won a judgment worth about $10 million, which Suzuki appealed. The appeal was granted because while Gabe had an expert scientist who could testify to the seal disruption that caused the brake failure, he did not have a metallurgist testify about the underlying cause of the seal disruption. Consequently, the case was move back down to the lower court for a retrial.

The second trial was scheduled five years after the first, in March 2023. Gabe was more than ready to take another run at Suzuki. Again working with the Simon Group, he handpicked Robbie Munoz to help communicate Joey’s case to the jury, and added Travis Davis to the team for motion support.

Joey’s team secured a metallurgist who would close the gap on the cause of the brake defect. The metallurgist testified about how the metals used in the brake system reacted with each other, causing a corrosive byproduct: formic acid. This acid byproduct caused the seal disruption, which caused the brake failure. Thus, they closed the loop that had been left open for Suzuki’s to appeal the 2018 verdict.

One of the other challenges of the case was that, from the outside, Joey’s injuries didn’t look as catastrophic as they were. This was especially true during the second trial, a decade after the incident. Joey had made an amazing recovery, and was back to snowboarding and skateboarding, making it hard for the jury to see the seriously injured man he really was. Joey’s medical team testified to show what Joey had gone through and what his medical future would look like.

Gabe and The Simon Law Group had worked with DK Global on many prior occasions, so when the team faced the challenge of giving Joey’s medical story justice, they turned to DK Global for a damages animation that showed the true extent of the young man’s injuries.

The animation began with a life-like 3D illustration of Joey, then showed a skeletal version of him, homing in first on his injuries and then the medical remediations necessary. First, it showed his shattered femur, fractured patella, and broken ankle. Then, a large metal rod was inserted through his femur, along with one large screw, and four smaller screws to hold it in place. His patella received six screws inserted at different angles to the bone fragments together. Then, the animation showed two screws inserted into Joey’s ankle.

Because Joey suffered a further patella injury, his medical team believed he would have to undergo a full knee replacement to repair his leg and keep it working. The animation went through every detail of the injury, from the first incision to the metal guides and tools inserted to perform the surgery, to the hardware that would be installed for the rest of his life — or until he required a second knee replacement.

At the second trial, the animation made it easy for Joey’s team to tell the story of his injuries. In a landmark verdict, the jury ruled against Suzuki, awarding Joey $11 million in compensatory damages as well as $150 million in punitive damages for the conduct leading to his injuries, for a total of around $161 million.

Gabe Houston owns and operates The Trial Lab, a bicoastal trial litigation firm in California and Florida, primarily focused on products liability and catastrophic personal injury. The Trial Lab helps innocent victims who have been hurt due to the carelessness of others. Gabe was selected as a Super Lawyers Rising Star from 2013 through 2020 and is a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum.

Robbie Munoz is a trial lawyer with The Simon Law Group. His unconventional path to becoming an advocate began when he suffered a knee injury while preparing for the Olympic trials as a boxer in 2008. His surgeon operated on the wrong knee, ending his boxing career and jumpstarting his desire to help people achieve justice. He pursued a career in law, where his mission is to help people overcome harm caused by others.

Travis Davis the head of the motions team for The Simon Law Group. He is an active member of the Orange County Trial Lawyers Association and the Arizona Association for Justice. He is admitted to the California State Bar, Arizona State Bar, United States District Court for the Central District of California, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California.

"I couldn't ask for more from a company like DK Global to help me provide the demonstrative evidence to help a jury understand what the extent of damages or liability were in this case."
Gabe Houston - The Trial Lab Corporation
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