A jury in California awarded $18 million to a family who lost their 11-year-old son in a rollover caused by the catastrophic failure of an aged, recalled Firestone Tire. The jury found that American Tire Depot, the dealer, was negligent for installing the 12-year-old spare despite its recall status and Firestone inspection guidelines against using tires more than ten years of age. On May 24, 2006, the child was the rear seat passenger in a Ford Explorer driven by his brother, when the left rear tire experienced a catastrophic tread separation on a California highway. The child, who was wearing his seatbelt, was partially ejected in the rollover crash and died of massive head injuries.

“This tragedy could have been easily prevented,” said attorney Roger Braugh, who represented the Moreno family. “The facts of this case showed very clearly that American Tire Depot did not offer even a minimum of professional attention to tire safety.” In January 2006, the child’s father brought the family’s 1994 Ford Explorer to American Tire Depot to replace two rear tires. ATD, a Firestone dealer, advised the father to rotate the spare, a recalled Firestone Radial ATX, onto the vehicle and sold him one new tire. The family, which purchased the Explorer used in 2005, was unaware that the Firestone spare was 12 years old and part of the massive 2000 Firestone recall.

At the time ATD installed the 12-year-old recalled tire, both Ford and Firestone had issued warnings against using aged tires. A Firestone dealer Technical Bulletin, dated October 2005, advised against the use of tires older than ten years, regardless of the tread depth. Ford Motor Company also issued a warning in 2005 advising against the use of tires older than six years. Ford’s warning actually read: “Tires degrade over time, even when they are not being used. You should replace the spare tire when you replace the other road tires due to the aging of the spare tire.” The tire technicians at ATD failed to follow these guidelines, nor did they check to determine if the tire was recalled.

At the trial, ATD acknowledged that it provided no training for its tire technicians on tire aging or how to read the tire date, which is embedded in the alphanumeric DOT code molded on the tire sidewall. The company also admitted that it lacked any policies or procedures to identify and capture recalled tires. An ATD store manager testified that he would provide the same service again. A company representative claimed he would expect a technician to do “nothing” if presented with an aged, recalled tire.

The jury found the tire dealer was 85% liable for the child’s death. The family had previously settled their case against Firestone. In the wake of this tragedy, the Moreno family has advocated for better tire safety laws. A family member testified before the California Assembly in 2009, urging it to pass a bill requiring tire dealers to disclose tire age.

Sean Kane, President of Safety Research & Strategies, who has been advocating for expiration dates on tires and consumer disclosure on tire age, says that this verdict sends a strong message to the industry. He had this to say:

Tire dealers and tire manufacturers must implement policies that ensure proper training to prevent aged and recalled tires from being installed on vehicles. The failure to do so jeopardizes public safety.

Roger Braugh and Jason Hoelscher, partners at Sico, White, Hoelscher & Braugh, L.L.P., a law firm based in Corpus Christi, Texas, represented the family in this case and did a very good job.

Source: Sico, White, Hoelscher & Braugh, L.L.P.

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