A Louisiana judge ordered Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. to pay more than $6.7 million to the family of a man who died from injuries he received from an exploding tire.

Elwood Breaux Jr., who worked for Plaquemines Parish Solid Waste department, was inflating a Goodyear tire on a garbage truck on Feb. 5, 2014. The tire exploded with a force that threw Mr. Breaux backward and left him with massive internal injuries to his chest and abdomen. He died 28 days later in the hospital.

The Breaux family’s lawsuit alleges a “zipper failure” in the Goodyear tire caused the explosion. These failures occur when a weakness in the tire’s sidewall allows air to escape, resulting in a powerful blast that one expert told the court is “like having a midsize truck hit you.” The failure gets its name from the appearance of the sidewall after the explosion – a tear with exposed metal reinforcements resembling a zipper.

According to State District Judge Michael Clement’s Sept. 10 ruling, Goodyear failed to adequately warn about the risk of a tire explosion while inflating. He wrote that while some warnings existed, they didn’t convey that the tire could explode with deadly force simply by being inflated.

For instance, one warning was embossed on the tire in the same color as the tire while another was printed on the back of an invoice. A similar warning was included in a warranty brochure. None of these warnings, however, told the customer “what a zipper failure was, what caused it, how to avoid it, or how to avoid being injured,” an expert witness testified, adding that the warnings could be interpreted as saying underinflated or overloaded tires could fail on the road.

Scott Rouselle, the superintendent of Plaquemines Parish Solid Waste North department, testified that he interpreted the warnings as the potential for the tire to fail on the road, not during inflation. Others who worked for the same Parish department testified they had never heard of zipper failures or saw a Goodyear document describing the risk and how to avoid it.

Judge Clement awarded Mr. Breaux’s wife, Irene Breaux, $1.5 million, including $1 million for mental anguish, grief and anxiety. He also awarded between $750,000 to $800,000 to each of the Breaux’s three children, and $300,000 each to Mr. Breaux’s adult daughters by his first wife. Additionally, the judge awarded Mr. Breaux himself more than $1 million, including $400,000 for pain and suffering, noting that even though he was heavily sedated, Mr. Breaux could grunt  when asked about pain and had to be “kept in restraints to keep him from pulling out the devices to which he had been hooked up,” the Associated Press reported.

According to Tire Business, the judge also awarded the Plaquemines Parish Government more than $481,000 in compensation for costs it incurred because of the accident, bringing the total judgment to $7.2 million.

Goodyear said it was disappointed in the judge’s decision and will appeal.

Beasley Allen lawyer Ben Baker has focused much of his career on auto products liability and crashworthiness cases. Ben has also published a book titled “Tire Litigation: A Primer” to help lawyers know what questions to ask as they evaluate potential tire cases, and how to get started. The book is available free to lawyers. For your copy, visit beasleyallen.com/publishing.

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