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Negligent Assembly

Purchasers of bicycles from “big box” department stores such as K-Mart, Walmart and Costco, may be taking a major risk. Such stores sell approximately 75 percent of all bikes in the United States according to the National Bicycle Dealers Association. These bicycles are often priced cheaply, meaning they provide an attractive option for gifts for children because children often outgrow bikes quickly.

The danger in purchasing a bike from a department store is that it is shipped to the dealer partially assembled. It is then assembled by a mechanic who is not a trained professional. A trained bike mechanic would know what to look for and could spot factory assembly problems and ensure a safe final assembly. A trained bike mechanic would also be able to spot any manufacturing defects in the bike before it is provided to the user.

Department store bicycles are often shipped from manufacturers in China or other Asian countries. Bicycles shipped from Asia are typically manufactured and fully adjusted before being partially disassembled for packing and shipping by an ocean-going container ship. To pack the bicycle in a cardboard carton, the Asian manufacturer will remove the front wheel, handlebars, stem, saddle, seat post, and pedals (if equipped). These parts are strapped to the bicycle or placed in a small parts box that is then packed into the carton. This is referred to as 85% assembly. When the packed bicycles arrive at the retailer, an assembly mechanic takes everything out of the carton, removes the packing material, threads on the pedals (if equipped), installs the seat post and saddle, installs the stem and handlebars, then attaches the front wheel and attaches the front brake cable. During this assembly process the assembly mechanic is responsible for final assembly and adjustment of the brakes, as well as inspection and verification of the safe and proper functioning of the brakes.

As a bicycle retailer, department stores are responsible for the assembly, adjustment, and inspection of the bicycle before it is offered for sale to the purchaser. Department stores have a responsibility to ensure that the bicycle offered for sale is in safe operating condition. The assembly and inspection procedure requires the checking and adjustment (if necessary) of all components on the bicycle, including the seat post, brakes, wheels, gears, etc. Failure to assemble and adjust all components of the bicycle prior to sale may lead to serious injury. 

Verifying the proper adjustment and function of the braking system prior to sale is standard practice in the bicycle industry due to the fact that proper operation is essential to maintaining bicycle control and rider safety. During the process of unpacking the bicycle for assembly the mechanic should visually confirm the condition of each component, including the fork, brake pads, brake calipers and brake levers.

If the department store mechanic fails to properly inspect and assemble the bicycle as shipped, the customer may receive it in a dangerous condition. For example, it is possible for a bicycle’s brakes to fail if they aren’t properly adjusted before given to the customer. Peter C. Grenier has successfully handled such a case.

If you have been injured in a bicycle accident as a result of the negligent assembly of the bike, contact Peter T. Anderson of the Grenier Law Group at 202-768-9600 (main)/202-768-9609 (direct) or panderson@grenierlawgroup.com.

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