Are Defective Brakes a Safety Issue with Harley Davidson Motorcycles? | Rosenthal, Levy, Simon & Sosa

Are Defective Brakes a Safety Issue with Harley Davidson Motorcycles?

It’s July noon hot. You’re doing a short Florida run on your Harley from, say, Port St. Lucie to West Palm Beach, a sleepy 50-mile jog down Interstate 95 that gets you in the thick of southbound tourist traffic. Suddenly, that wobbly tractor-trailer next to you surges from the left into your lane. You brake and lean into the right lane, but the brakes don’t work. So you lean even harder to avoid the truck. Your life is now on the line.

It’s possible you just got a taste of what has inspired an investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The NHTSA has announced it will be looking at 430,000 Harley-Davidsons, model years 2008 through 2011, with particular attention paid to the anti-lock braking system. The problem, according to the administration’s Office of Defects Investigation report, is that the “ABS module corrodes and fails as a result of the brake fluid absorbing moisture from the surrounding environment. Sudden brake failure may occur w/o warning.”

The report cites 43 complaints, three crashes and/or fires, two injuries (in separate incidents), and under fatalities, it ominously says “TBD,” which means “to be determined.”

What Is the Problem with Harley Brakes?

Perhaps it’s best to let the Office of Defects Investigation speak for itself:

“Riders report sudden brake system failure occurring without warning. Minimal to no deflection is noted when applying either the front brake hand lever or rear brake foot pedal with no discernible braking effect. Commonly, only one braking channel (front or rear) is reportedly affected although one report alleging simultaneous loss of both (resulting in a low speed crash into a garage door) has been received. Harley Davidson has a two year brake fluid replacement interval which owners are either unaware of or ignore. The ‘old’ fluid, which is hygroscopic, becomes contaminated by moisture and allegedly corrodes the ABS actuator valves. The valves then fail to cycle and the affected brake calipers are no longer actuated when riders apply the brake(s). While it may be true that the complainants failed to adhere to Harley Davidson’s 2 year brake fluid service interval requirement, the consequent sudden and complete loss of brake(s), without warning, is a concern.”

A Fortune magazine article in July reported that a 2011 Harley-Davidson FLHR owner from Arkansas told the NHTSA in January that “while driving at approximately 75 mph, the vehicle started to shake and wobble.”

Fortune also reported on a complaint out of Texas that the “front brake lever froze with no warning while riding it home on the highway. … Fortunately for me, my rear brakes still worked fine, or I wouldn’t be able to make this complaint.”

A History of Brake Issues

The Law 360 website says Harley had motorcycle brake failure issues two years ago, too:

“The company announced a recall of 66,421 of the 2014 anti-lock braking system-equipped Touring and CVO Touring motorcycles that might have been assembled with a brake line defect that can cause the front wheel to lock up.”

Law 360 says that recall involved Hogs made between July 2013 and May 2014 that were at risk of having front brake lines pinched between the frame and fuel tank.

Serious Concerns for Safety

If the NHTSA determines there is a manufacturing defect in Harley’s anti-lock braking system, the already significant odds of being injured in a motorcycle accident must be recalculated – upward – for Harley riders. That’s no small thing.

Consumer Reports’ website notes that U.S. motorcycle fatalities topped 5,000 in 2015, a record number that exceeded the death toll for 2014 by 10 percent. The news is grimmer for Floridians. NHTSA data for 2014 show a motorcycle fatality rate per 100,000 people of 12.54 percent for Florida, versus a national average of 10.25 percent.

It seems insignificant, until your calculator tells you that Florida motorcyclists stand a 22 percent greater chance of dying in the saddle than your average U.S. motorcyclist. The last thing Florida Hog fans need is news that their motorcycle of choice might increase their odds of becoming a dark statistic.


Let’s say you have an affected Harley that does experience motorcycle brake failure, resulting in serious injury. What are your legal options? And let’s say that per the Office of Defects Investigation’s report, you didn’t read the manual and change the brake fluid. Do you still have a right to pursue compensation?

If you or a loved one has been hurt due to bad brakes on a Harley, you need to speak with our skilled Florida motorcycle accident lawyers at Rosenthal, Levy, Simon & Ryles as soon as possible. Our experienced personal injury lawyers have in-depth knowledge of product liability laws, and we know what it takes to hold negligent manufacturers or distributors of dangerous parts accountable.

Schedule a free case consultation with us today, and learn how we will fight for:

  • Payment for past and future medical bills related to your motorcycle accident injuries
  • Lost wages, including reduced earning potential for the future
  • Damages to your motorcycle
  • Compensation for the pain and suffering you are going through as a result of your motorcycle accident

At Rosenthal, Levy, Simon & Ryles, we watch out for motorcyclists, both on the road and in the courtroom. So contact us today by calling or filling out our online form, and let us get started looking out for you.

Our case evaluations are always free, and we work on a contingency fee basis, which means we do not charge you legal fees to start on your case. Instead, we are paid only if and when we recover compensation for you.

Icon Testimonials Client Testimonials

I was injured at work directly due to poor management decisions. I worked as a lifeguard and a child that was in the care of the day care facility on the campus ran away. He was in immediate danger. I…
I have recommended Jonathan Levy and his law firm to my friends and one of them became his client. I am truly grateful for everything Jonathan Levy and his team have done on my behalf. He is truly a wonderful attorney.
Faithe C.

Much to my surprise not only did they win my lawsuit but I ended up getting 3 times the original amount I was expecting to get! I could not have been more pleased with the staff and the outcome.
Allison M.

If it wasn’t for your help, I know I wouldn’t have been able to win my case. I know that it was far away for you to come to Miami but your professionalism was outstanding. I will always recommend you.
Maria W.

You might say you were even just doing your job, however, I think it’s essential that you realize how fortunate I am to have such a trusted esteemed attorney in my corner, blessed really.

See All Testimonials