The Center for Auto Safety has moved to unseal records in a fraud lawsuit that could reveal how Goodyear and its lawyers allegedly sought to cover up a major safety defect through the confidential settlements of claims. The Center, which made a similar move to unseal records involving Chrysler vehicles, was granted a motion to intervene in a lawsuit against Goodyear and its lawyers.
The lawsuit, filed in 2013 and since settled, alleged Goodyear and its lawyers failed to disclose test data that would have revealed how the automaker’s G159 tires, used primarily in motorhomes, suffered tread separation at high temperatures. The suit says further that Goodyear and its lawyers secretly settled cases brought over the defect. Jennifer Bennett, a staff attorney at Public Justice representing the Center for Auto Safety, said:
These tires are still on the road today. The documents would shed light on whether there’s this defect. Second, they will shed light on how Goodyear handled the defect. Was Goodyear aware of it? The allegation is that Goodyear was aware of the defect and conspired with its lawyers.
Ms. Bennett said that among the documents the Center for Auto Safety seeks to obtain are test data, internal communications, including with Goodyear’s lawyers, and claims from customers about property damage, injuries and deaths.
The case, filed in Maricopa County Superior Court, is the second filed against Goodyear on behalf of four members of the Haeger family. They were severely injured when their 38-foot motorhome veered off a New Mexico highway after the right front tire’s tread separated. Let’s take a brief look at these two cases:
In the first case, which settled in 2010, U.S. Chief Judge Roslyn Silver in Arizona imposed $2.7 million in sanctions against Goodyear and its lawyers for failing to disclose test data to the Heagers’ attorney – conduct that rose “to a truly egregious level.” That order went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in April reversed to recalculate the sanctions, which it found must be causally linked to the underlying misconduct.
In the second case, brought in 2013, the Haegers sought punitive damages against The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and its former associate general counsel, Deborah Okey. The suit also named Goodyear’s outside law firms: Fennemore Craig and one of its lawyers; Graeme Hancock, and Ohio’s Roetzel & Andress.
This defect has been said to be “more than 20 times worse than Firestone tires.” So far 41 lawsuits have been brought over the defect. The original product liability suit, filed on behalf of the Heagers in 2003, settled for a confidential amount. But in 2012, Judge Silver found Goodyear and its lawyers had refused to produce information relevant to the case. The suit alleges:
The little voice in every attorney’s conscience that murmurs turn over all material information was ignored. The second suit sought damages relating to that conduct. By fraud and deception, Goodyear was able to secretly settle cases for a small fraction of the just compensation victims were entitled to and would have received if the truth were disclosed.
After discovery commenced in 2016, new evidence about the deaths and injuries tied to the defect came out, showing this to be a very bad tire. It’s said that Goodyear has used protective orders to shield lawyers from obtaining documents in other cases. These protective orders have prohibited disclosure to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Department of Justice, and to the public.
Hopefully, the Center for Auto Safety will be successful in this matter. If they are valuable safety-related information will be available to the public.