In our line of work, what never seems to get easier is the fact the worst day of each of our client’s lives was avoidable. Most often it’s corporate greed that’s the cause, because doing the right thing is rarely the least expensive option. Only when enough people raise their voices against the wrongdoing does it start getting the attention it deserves. Sometimes that happens through social media or a formal complaint, and sometimes it’s through litigation. The goal is always the same: Keep it from happening to someone else.
At the end of 2017, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recognized a growing collection of voices and began investigating a tire defect that has severely injured and even killed people. It’s a defect that the tire’s manufacturer, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., had known about for years prior.
Goodyear’s G159 tires were never intended for use on recreational vehicles (RVs). In fact, they were designed for metro and urban pickup and delivery trucks, such as those used by UPS. They were meant for urban settings and not for extended trips at highway speeds.
When used on RVs traveling for hours on end, The Jere Beasley Report explains, the temperature of the G159’s thick tread and wide belt package increases to such a high degree that the tire can fail. The tread of the tire can separate and cause the driver to lose control of the RV.
Through discovery, we learned that Goodyear’s own internal documents pointed to this deadly flaw, and yet the company continued to sell the tires with no warning. It even issued a “silent recall” to try to remedy the situation while not attracting attention to it, so people remained—and continue to remain—unaware.
NHTSA opened a preliminary investigation into the defect, which it linked to one fatality and 13 injuries. However, this is far from the only tire to experience tread separation issues when used on RVs. It’s a more common occurrence than you may think.
I recently handled a case for the family of Alfred Holt, who was killed after a Michelin Pilot tire failed on the RV he was driving, and it crashed into a tree. Due to a tire defect, driving to see the Alabama Crimson Tide play in a national championship game in New Orleans turned tragic, when the tire detreaded due to its age.
Manufacturers are aware tires deteriorate over time, even if they are not in use and are just sitting on a shelf in Wal-Mart. This means a tire that has never even touched a road could still be too old to be safe. As Beasley Allen has previously described, most tire manufacturers recommend replacing tires every 10 years regardless of wear, but instruct buyers to follow automakers’ recommendations if they suggest sooner. Most usually do, recommending replacements every six years.
The common denominator between the G159 defect cases and the similar cases I’ve handled is tires’ inability to handle heat, especially as they age. This is especially true for RV tires due the size of the vehicle they support and the long distances typically traveled at highway speeds. Manufacturers know heat and age play a role in tire safety. But how is the public supposed to know?
These manufacturing shortcuts cost lives, and even if someone is lucky enough to survive the accident, they often experience injuries that result in life-long complications. The work of trial lawyers across this nation will hopefully result in the G159 tires being recalled, but others with heat/age-related defects will remain on the road. Sadly, due to a lack of transparency by large corporations, it’s a matter of when, not if someone else gets hurt.
Jere Beasley Report (2008, June). Goodyear Tire Case Settled, 3-4.