On appeal from Superior Court, Law Division, Union County.
Lynch, Crane and Horn. The opinion of the court was delivered by Horn, J.A.D.
[165 NJSuper Page 548] This is a mini-bike accident case. On July 21, 1969 plaintiff Alan Klein, then 14 years old, suffered severe head injuries as the result of an accident which occurred while he was riding his mini-bike on a public street in Kenilworth, New Jersey. After Alan attained his majority, he instituted this action to recover damages from defendants R & S Auto Stores, Inc. (R & S), the seller, and General Leisure Products, Inc.*fn1 (General Leisure), the manufacturer of the bike. Plaintiff Leonard Klein, father of Alan, joined in the action for consequential damages. The Borough of Kenilworth, which was added as a party in an amended complaint, was dismissed during the trial. The theories of liability included negligence, strict liability and breach of warranty.
After an extended jury trial, judgments were entered in favor of defendants by reason of the jury's answer to the first of a set of special interrogatories submitted to it. Following an unsuccessful motion for a new trial, plaintiffs filed this appeal.
The bike had been purchased new from R & S about 10 to 14 days before the accident. Plaintiffs contended that while Alan was riding the bike the drive chain came off the rear sprocket and wedged between it and the rear wheel, causing the bike to stop precipitously and to cause Alan to fall from it. There was evidence from a police officer who arrived shortly after this unfortunate occurrence that Alan was in a coma when the officer saw him, and that the chain was off the rear sprocket and so wedged that the wheel was locked. Alan had no recollection of the immediate events surrounding the accident.
The case was tried on plaintiffs' factual contention that a defective drive chain on the bike became so loose between the date of the purchase of the bike and the day of the accident as to disengage from the rear sprocket. Accordingly, plaintiffs claimed that General Leisure, the manufacturer, was liable because of a defective design which permitted the chain to become too loose. They claimed R & S was culpable because it neglected to alert them as to how to overcome the design defect by making certain adjustments which would retain the necessary chain tension.
Defendants denied plaintiffs' contentions and sought to show that even if there was a defect in the chain because it was too loose, the resulting hazard did not contribute to the cause of the accident. Specifically, they depended upon the testimony of one Miles Baral, who was an alleged eyewitness to the event. He testified that Alan and others were racing when a sudden untoward event caused the bike to veer left on a 45- to 60-degree angle and hit the street curb. This collision with the curb, defendants urged, caused the chain to come off the sprocket and wedge between it and the rear wheel. Defendants introduced evidence that no skid marks
were found in the street which, according to defendants' expert, would have been caused if the rear wheel had suddenly locked as contended by plaintiffs.
One other point adduced by defendants through Baral's testimony was that either Alan or a mechanic in a mini-bike shop had installed a new master link in the chain earlier in the day of the accident and that the chain was in fact tight at the time of the accident.
The case was presented to the jury on a series of special interrogatories which directed the jury to go to later questions only if earlier ones were answered affirmatively. The first and only question answered by the jury was:
1. While Allan Klein was riding the mini bike, was there slack in the chain so that it jumped off the rear sprocket and became wedged in a way that stopped the rear ...