Harley-Davidson has been hit with a proposed class action lawsuit that alleges it’s sold tens of thousands of motorcycles that contained “a hidden and dangerous defect” in their anti-lock braking systems (ABS).
According to the 25-page case out of the Northern District of California, the ABS on the affected motorcycles can malfunction during the normal course of operation due to wire breakage in the wiring harness. Breakage of these wires, which connect a motorcycle’s ABS to its engine control unit, can occur with no obvious warning sign to the rider and present the risk of potentially fatal injury should the rider have to brake in an emergency situation, the lawsuit claims.
Harley-Davidson, the complaint says, knew about the wiring defect since at least 2008, as well as the fact that a rider who follows the company’s emergency braking instructions for ABS-equipped motorcycles could be seriously injured should such action be taken on a bike with a non-functional ABS. Yet, the company has taken no steps to notify owners of the defect or to repair, replace, upgrade or recall the affected motorcycles.
New anti-lock braking system, new emergency braking instructions
Harley-Davidson added an anti-lock braking system to its 2008 model year Touring and CVO Touring motorcycles, which were first available for sale in September 2007. As advertised by the company, the benefits of the new ABS included “consistent braking and stopping power under all operating conditions” to go along with “improved brake performance and feel,” all of which were meant to help the rider maintain control during emergency stopping situations, the case says.
With the new ABS, however, came new instructions from Harley-Davidson on how riders should brake depending on whether their motorcycle was equipped with ABS. For motorcycles with ABS, the suit says, riders in emergency braking situations were instructed by the defendant to “maintain continuous braking pressure on the brakes” until the motorcycle slowed sufficiently,” and to not “modulate or ‘pump’ the brakes.” Harley-Davidson instructed riders of non-ABS-equipped motorcycles to essentially do the opposite.
Crucially, the lawsuit says, if Harley-Davidson’s ABS emergency braking procedure was performed on a non-ABS-equipped motorcycle – or, say, an ABS bike whose system had malfunctioned – it could result in a locked wheel that could cause the rider to lose control, resulting in injury or death.
What does the lawsuit say exactly?
According to the lawsuit, Harley-Davidson knew as far back as 2008 that its Touring and CVO Touring models suffered from wire breakage within the ABS wiring harness. More specifically, Harley-Davidson, through its own durability testing, the case claims, discovered that the wires that connect the front wheel speed sensor to a motorcycle’s engine control unit “were prone to breakage during normal operation.” This breakage, the suit continues, is caused by the normal motion of turning the front wheel back and forth.
As the lawsuit tells it, Harley-Davidson knew full well that it would be catastrophic for a motorcycle’s ABS to fail, and that a rider would have no obvious warning that such a failure had occurred. This is partially due to the fact that if an affected model’s ABS failed, the rider would still have available standard “foundation” braking, the suit says.
Standard, non-ABS braking, however, requires an entirely different set of braking techniques in order to stop the motorcycle in an emergency situation, the complaint stresses. Where this is troublesome and dangerous, the lawsuit points out, is that a rider on a motorcycle equipped with ABS who is unaware that the system is not functional and follows Harley-Davidson’s ABS-specific emergency braking procedure could face a potentially deadly situation:
Upon information and belief, a rider with a malfunctioning ABS could face an emergency, apply the brakes exactly as instructed by Harley-Davidson, and, with no notice that his motorcycle had a non-functioning ABS, lock the wheels – potentially causing a sudden, violent, loss of control that, as Harley-Davidson warned, could result in death or serious injury.”
Did Harley-Davidson address the alleged defect?
The lawsuit says Harley-Davidson, soon after receiving a number of complaints from private citizens and law enforcement officers who experienced ABS failures, began working on an improved wire harness that would not encounter breakage problems. Nonetheless, Harley-Davidson allegedly continued to sell Touring and CVO touring motorcycles with defective wiring harnesses until at least 2010 “while issuing no notice to customers,” the complaint says.
Harley-Davidson’s 2009 and 2010 Touring and CVO Touring model motorcycles contained the same defective ABS wiring harness as its 2008 models, yet Harley Davidson changed nothing in its instructions to its riders, in its communications to consumers, in its service bulletins to its dealers, nor in its dealings with state and federal safety regulatory agencies.”
While Harley-Davidson worked on the issue, according to the case, it told dealers to continue to service motorcycles with the alleged defect.
It wasn’t until 2011, the case goes on, that Harley-Davidson began selling Touring and CVO Touring motorcycles with retrofitted wiring harnesses that alleviated the problems in the models of years prior.
Further ABS problems
The lawsuit goes on to state that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2016 began to look into ABS-related complaints from Harley-Davidson riders, including those concerning 2008-2010 Touring and CVO Touring models, concerning reportedly defective hydraulic control units. The result of the inquiry was the NHTSA urging Harley-Davidson to recall its 2008-2010 Touring and CVO Touring motorcycles to correct the problem, which the suit describes as easy for riders to detect in that a motorcycle’s brake lever would feel hard and be difficult to operate.
Despite the 175,000-motorcycle recall, the lawsuit says, Harley-Davidson “took no steps whatsoever to address the separate, dangerous problem” of wire breakage in its ABS wiring harnesses. From the complaint:
To this day, Harley-Davidson has not issued any public notice, owner communication, warranty modification, buyback program, or recall for the tens of thousands of 2008-2010 model-year Touring and CVO Touring model motorcycles with a defective ABS system, many of which are still on the roads today, driven by unsuspecting members of the public and law enforcement agencies.”
Who’s covered by this lawsuit?
The lawsuit looks to represent a class of consumers nationwide who purchased or leased 2008-2010 model year Harley-Davidson Touring or CVO Touring model motorcycles, as well as a California-only subclass.
How can I join the class action?
Right now, there’s nothing you need to do to join this class action lawsuit. Once a lawsuit is filed, it still has quite a long way to go before it gets to the phase where consumers affected by the allegations need to keep an eye out and an ear open. We’ll bring you the latest when we have it.