Michael Schumacher, Formula 1 driver and known to many as the Stig, is still recovering from traumatic injuries sustained during a skiing accident last December at the French Alps resort of Méribel. Schumacher was skiing off-piste when he crashed into rocks and even though Schumacher was wearing a helmet, he sustained severe head injuries and spent six months in a medically-induced coma. Like many skiers, Schumacher had a GoPro camera mounted on his helmet and early reports suggested that the GoPro mounting might have exacerbated Schumacher’s injuries by weakening the structure of the helmet. The concern is not the adhesive used in the mount, but rather the distribution of forces upon impact when the camera takes the initial strike. Does the camera mount act as a wedge to split the helmet? Laboratory tests are ongoing and have yet to determine the effect of the mount and confirm those early theories. In Schumacher’s case, the helmet was destroyed, but the mount and camera were not damaged.
GoPro cameras are small personal high-definition cameras that are wearable or mountable and are used to capture extreme action video. GoPro cameras have become a regular sight on the ski slopes and are commonly mounted on a helmet. GoPro Inc. entered the public market in June 2014 at a price of $24 a share and the stock price climbed steadily thereafter. GoPro stock soared and quadrupled in just three months.
Last week GoPro was surprised by the market reaction when unsubstantiated reports resurfaced that the helmet-mounted GoPro camera was a factor in Michael Schumacher’s head injury and GoPro’s shares dropped over 10 percent in a single day.
Over the week, the stock lost over $2.4 billion. The weekend prior to the stock drop, Jean-Louis Moncet, a veteran Formula 1 commentator and French journalist, claimed that the GoPro camera mounted to Schumacher’s helmet worsened his condition. Moncet told a Europe radio station, “The problem for Michael was not the hit, but the mounting of the GoPro camera that he had on his helmet that injured his brain.” Moncet has since recanted his statement via Twitter. Moncet tweeted: “Talking about GoPro, there were no news. It was just my opinion.” This recant may be too little too late for Moncet. GoPro is said to be considering civil litigation against Moncet in France.
Raymond James & Associates analyst Tavis McCourt said it was “hard to tell” if Moncet’s comments were the main cause of GoPro’s decline. However, shares of other wearable camera makers also fell on the news of the statement from Moncet. Digital Ally Inc. closed 12.9 percent lower and Taser International Inc. ended down 3.2 percent. It will be difficult to attribute the decline in the stock value of extreme personal camera companies directly to Moncet, especially since the market fluctuated greatly last week. However, the potential liability of Moncet is staggering.
Also staggering is the potential liability of GoPro if it can be determined that helmet-mounted cameras compromise the integrity of safety devices. Perhaps Schumacher’s accident was a single tragic occurrence of helmet failure in this manner. Are there other cases of head trauma that may be attributed to helmet-mounted cameras? Unlike the recent reports of cancer linked to artificial athletic turf, there has not been an outpouring of similar cases reported in the months following Schumacher’s accident. However, camera companies like GoPro along with the helmet companies must be concerned. With the increasing use of personal cameras on the slopes combined with increasing popularity of extreme skiing, identifying potential design flaws with the camera mount or helmet itself is paramount.