Ruling unseals Goodyear comment

posted on:
April 2, 2008

author:
Margaret Cronin Fisk

Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. can’t stop an accident victim’s lawyer from claiming a witness testified in a confidentially settled case that the company knew its tires could fail when used on motor homes, a judge said.

The witness, Kim Cox, a Goodyear claims administrator, testified under oath that the company ‘was aware’ its G159 tires ‘did not perform properly,’ attorney Guy Ricciardulli said in court papers, paraphrasing Cox.

Goodyear stopped the 2003 deposition and agreed immediately to a confidential settlement of claims that tire failure caused an accident, Ricciardulli said.

He disclosed his version of Cox’s testimony to another lawyer. Goodyear last year asked a federal judge to sanction him for revealing confidential data. Goodyear sought to prevent other accident victims’ lawyers from questioning Ricciardulli and Cox about the alleged admission.

‘Goodyear has not identified any public policy that supports the perpetuation of secrecy of a Goodyear employee’s testimony concerning a possibly defective tire in certain usages,’ U.S. District Judge Rudi M. Brewster said in a March 18 order in San Diego. ‘It would be repugnant to the public policy of protecting the health and safety of the public.’

The testimony will help other lawyers suing Goodyear, the largest U.S. tire maker, over its G159 model, said attorney Rick Morrison, who has a similar lawsuit pending against the
company.

‘It’s a big deal,’ he said. ‘A Goodyear representative admits there’s a problem with the tire.’

The lawsuits claim the G159 tires are prone to failing when used on larger motor homes.

Cox didn’t admit any defect in the Goodyear tire and Ricciardulli mischaracterized his testimony, Goodyear spokesman Scott Baughman said.

‘We don’t believe that Kim Cox ever said anything about the tire being defective,’ he said. ‘The tire does not have a design or manufacturing defect.’

The deposition information was confidential and Ricciardulli’s version was ‘inaccurate,’ Baughman said. The company won’t appeal Brewster’s ruling, he said.

The settlement didn’t occur as a response to Cox’s deposition, Goodyear lawyer John McCormick said in court papers. The deposition was covered by a protection order, he said.

Cox’s deposition itself isn’t available because the transcript wasn’t finished and Goodyear destroyed the court reporter’s notes from the deposition, according to court documents unsealed with the judge’s decision.

The decision upholds a previous ruling by U.S. Magistrate Judge Nita L. Stormes and removes from confidentiality provisions any evidence of Cox’s ‘deposition testimony regarding the fitness or safety of the G159 tire for use on motor homes,’ Judge Brewster said.

The ruling allows the lawyers in the other cases to call Cox to discuss his previous testimony to counter Goodyear denials of tire defects and to call Ricciardulli if Cox disputes the lawyer’s recollections, Morrison said.

It also allows them to question Goodyear lawyers, said Morrison, a lawyer with Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles in Montgomery, Ala.

Morrison has scheduled a deposition Friday with Goodyear lawyer Basil Musnuff, who was at the 2003 deposition, according to court records. Musnuff was asked to bring to the new deposition all records related to Cox’s 2003 testimony.

Morrison’s lawsuit is set for trial May 12 in Alabama.

Cox wasn’t qualified to testify about product defects and was called to talk about a previous tire complaint by the plaintiffs in the 2003 case, Goodyear’s lawyer McCormick said in court papers. ‘Cox was produced to testify regarding the handling of the prior Nebraska claim and he was not designated to testify regarding the suitability of any tires in any particular application,’ McCormick said.

Goodyear shares rose $1.16, or 4.5 percent, to $26.96 in Tuesday trading. Shares have fallen 14 percent in the past year.

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