Yesterday a Florida jury returned a $5.6 million verdict against Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, saying the company sold a tire for use on recreational vehicles (RVs) even though the company was aware the tire was not suitable for RV use. The tires, Goodyear G159, were manufactured and sold for RVs between 1996-2000. Since that time, Goodyear has faced numerous claims resulting from tire failures and vehicle accidents, many resulting in serious injury and death.
The recent verdict represents the first G159 tire case to go to trial. Goodyear has quietly settled as many as a dozen G159 tire cases involving serious injuries and deaths in exchange for confidentiality. This time, plaintiffs were resolved to take the company to court in hopes of finally shining a light on its failure to protect the public from a dangerous product.
Attorneys Christopher Roberts and Hugh Smith, of Smith, Fuller & Roberts, a Tampa Bay firm specializing in tire litigation, presented evidence that Goodyear had marketed the G159 to the RV industry for nearly a decade in the 1990s and 2000s, even though Goodyear knew it was dangerous for those vehicles.
“The most important thing about this verdict is that finally you’ve had a jury tell Goodyear, ‘You are responsible for numerous catastrophic injuries and death as a result of these tires failing,'” said Beasley Allen attorney Rick Morrison, who has worked with attorneys throughout the country, including Roberts, to investigate Goodyear G159 tires.
There are still Goodyear G159 tires in use on RVs throughout the country. The tire has never been recalled; instead, Goodyear has blamed the vehicle manufacturers and even the user – its own customer – for deadly accidents.
“We still get three or four calls a month from RV owners who have these tires that failed, and thankfully they have escaped injury, but they’re very, very concerned, and they want to know why Goodyear won’t even replace these defective tires or acknowledge that there is a problem with them,” Morrison said. “There will be another bad accident where someone is hurt or killed because Goodyear didn’t do what was right and get this tire off the road.”
The jury in Pasco County Circuit Court reviewed the evidence in a case in which John Schalmo was driving his RV in 2004 when the right front tire suffered a catastrophic tread separation. The RV veered off the road and crashed into a line of trees. Schalmo and passengers William and Ruth McClintock were seriously injured. William McClintock lost both his legs as a result of the crash.
Roberts and Smith argued the G159 was originally designed for urban delivery vehicles and speed-rated for only 65 miles per hour continuous use. In 1998, Goodyear increased the speed rating to 75 miles per hour, even though the tire design was prone to overheat on RVs that typically travel at those speeds for extended periods. The speed rating change allowed Goodyear to continue selling the tire to the RV market after speed limits increased nationwide.
Excessive heat in a tire will break down its internal components over time, and is a leading cause of tread belt detachment failures, as typified by the Schalmo crash. During the course of the trial, Roberts and Smith presented Goodyear documents including internal heat and speed testing and failure rate data that Roberts and Smith argued showed that Goodyear knew the G159 was improperly approved for 75 mph continuous highway use.
Because the Schalmo and McClintock families refused to agree to a confidential settlement, important documents that may reveal that Goodyear knew the G159 tire was dangerous may soon come to light. The Florida Sunshine in Litigation Act prohibits a court from sealing corporate documents that would conceal a public hazard. Circuit Court Judge Stanley Mills has given Goodyear 45 days to present arguments for sealing the confidential Goodyear materials shown to the jury.