Attorney Addresses Goodyear Suit Outcome
Editor’s Note: Mark C. Tanenbaum, a South Carolina attorney, sent out this news release about the recent court decision regarding Goodyear tires.
A personal injury claim filed by a Florida man against Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. resulted in one of the largest judgments ever awarded in Pasco County. Judge Stanley Mills found Goodyear liable for a 2004 crash that caused serious injuries to John Schalmo and his family.
In August of that year, Mr. Schalmo was on the road in a year 2000 motorhome marketed by the American Tradition company. While traveling on Florida State Road 8 in the town of Chipley, the tread on the front passenger tire (a Goodyear model G159, size 275/70 22.5 that had been on the vehicle since its manufacture in 2000) separated from the underlying rubber base. The sudden loss of traction caused Mr. Schalmo to lose control of the RV and eventually crash into a wooded area beside the road. Mr. Schalmo was traveling with his wife and parents-in-law at the time of the accident. All the occupants were injured — Mr. Schalmo and his father-in-law William McClintock severely. Both of Mr. McClintock’s legs had to be amputated to save his life.
How Did the Court Determine that Goodyear was Liable?
Judge Mills’ decision was based on a lengthy analysis of the history of the G159 tire. Goodyear’s marketing of its G159 tire specifically to RV users and owners when it was intended only to be used on delivery vehicles traveling at a maximum of 65 mph was a definite factor in the judge’s decision. Not only did Goodyear improperly market the tires, they actually increased the maximum speed rating to 75 mph. This was done in spite of the fact that they were well aware of a design flaw that resulted in overheating of the tire when it was used on RVs traveling at high speeds for extended periods. Overheating is a leading cause of tread detachment, which, as in the case of Mr. Schalmo, can result in a catastrophic accident.
The fact that the tire’s treads could separate due to the heat generated on the road was only part of the equation. The trial court also found that G159 tires were not designed in a way to handle the lengthy periods of inactivity of the RVs themselves — these vehicles are typically parked for months at a time, putting constant pressure on the tires. Somewhat ironically, the inactivity contributes to the tires’ failure when the vehicle is in use.
Another aspect of Goodyear’s liability in this accident is the fact that the company never issued a full recall of the G159 tires. They issued two limited recalls (and one Product Service Bulletin) in 1999, but did not publicize the fact that the tire’s design was inherently unworkable for an RV, instead blaming any tire failures on “inadequate load margin and customer misuse.”
What Does This Mean for Other Claims Against Goodyear?
While the company has confidentially settled around a dozen other personal injury claims arising from tread separation on G159 tires, this is the first case to go to trial. It is also the first case to have a publicly available award amount. This judgment will put plaintiffs in a better bargaining position both at the negotiation table and in the courtroom, and the judge’s findings will give guidance to those who will be deciding future lawsuits.