A Montgomery woman who was paralyzed in a 2004 rollover crash that occurred when the tread on one of her SUV’s tires separated has been awarded $4 million in a judgment against Wal-Mart, whose service center failed to spot the defective tire.
Montgomery attorney Greg Allen said Friday his client, Carolyn Thorne, was "very satisfied" with the jury’s judgment of $2 million in punitive damages and $2 million in compensatory damages.
He said the verdict was reached Thursday evening and Thorne had previously settled cases against Continental Tire Company of North America, Sonic Automotive, also known as Friendly Ford, and Ford Motor Company. Wal-Mart was the only company that would not settle, he said.
"You combine the settlements with the verdict, and she’ll be taken care of," Allen said. "I’m happy."
Thorne was driving her Ford Expedition to a business seminar in La Grange, Ga. when the tire tread separated and caused her to lose control, Allen said. The SUV rolled over one time and the roof was crushed down to the steering wheel, he said.
The faulty tire was included in an August 2002 recall by Continental Tire Company. The company had replaced four of Thorne’s tires.
It did not replace a fifth one, which she was using when the accident occurred. Allen said Thorne had her car serviced at the Wal-Mart on Montgomery’s Eastern Bypass on nine separate occasions after the recall, but she wasn’t told that the fifth tire was also defective.
"Their defense was: ‘All we’re doing is checking tread depth,’ and she thought they were checking for safety," Allen said, adding that Thorne took her car to the service center a week before the crash. "If somebody had looked at it, they would have found the bulge."
Allen said the Wal-Mart servicemen testified that they weren’t trained to look for tire problems. It also was discovered that Wal-Mart has a policy not to disclose recalls on tires unless Wal-Mart sold the tire.
Wal-Mart spokesman John Simley said the company does check tires for tread depth, but said he couldn’t comment further.
Simley said the retail giant is constantly reviewing its policies and would not appeal the verdict.
"I think every time we find an opportunity to improve our policies and procedures we’ll investigate it and if it’s warranted, we’ll implement it," he said.
Allen said Thorne, who was wearing a seatbelt when the accident occurred, is an incomplete quadriplegic with limited use of her left arm, but no use of her legs or right arm.
His client’s business has faltered after the accident, which has left her in constant pain, but she will continue to cope, Allen said.
"She’s a very strong lady and she wouldn’t back down – not even when there was a lot of pressure," he said.