Backcountry enthusiast who died last week wins REI suit over 2007 cycle accident
Less than a week after backcountry enthusiast Monika Johnson died in a fall near Snoqualmie Pass, the state Court of Appeals ruled in a lawsuit she filed two years ago against Recreational Equipment Inc., saying REI must take responsibility for an allegedly defective part that caused Johnson's bicycle to collapse, leaving her with permanent injuries.
Seattle Times health reporter
Monika Johnson, a backcountry enthusiast who died on a mountain near Snoqualmie Pass last week, had one enduring sadness, her friends and family said: a bicycle accident in 2007 that left her with serious injuries and an ongoing lawsuit with Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI), which she said had used a defective part when it rebuilt her bike.
A little more than a day after search-and-rescue crews brought Johnson's body out of the mountains, the state Court of Appeals ruled Monday in that lawsuit, agreeing with Johnson that REI must take responsibility for any alleged defect in the carbon-fiber bicycle fork that suddenly broke while she was riding down Fifth Avenue in Seattle.
"It's so poignant and ironic that this came out today," Robert Christie, Johnson's lawyer, said Monday. "She would have been really thrilled with the sense of justice this opinion articulates."
The ruling doesn't surprise him, he added, "but the timing blows me away."
When the bike collapsed, Johnson was thrown face down onto the sidewalk. She suffered a head injury, a broken jaw, the loss of four teeth, many cuts and severe abrasions, the lawsuit said.
After the accident, Johnson was not able to work full time at her physical-therapy job, the head injury causing her to become mentally fatigued, her attorney said. "She had a lot of pride in what she did. ... She wouldn't just 'get by.' "
REI argued that the frame's manufacturer, not REI, should be responsible for any defects. Johnson's lawsuit argued that under state products-liability law, REI was responsible because it had branded the Novara product as its own.
REI spokeswoman Megan Behrbaum said it was too early for the company to determine whether it would seek review of the case by the state's Supreme Court. "It's a very sad situation," she said. "Our condolences go out to her family and friends."
Christie said he expects the lawsuit to go forward through Johnson's estate, despite her death. His client never saw REI as "the bad guy," he said, and wasn't seeking a windfall — she just wanted the company to stand behind its products.
Christie said the appeals court's decision will become part of Washington case law, and "in that sense, her name will live on."
Carol M. Ostrom: 206-464-2249 or email@example.com
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