``Sue me! Sue me!'' isn't just a refrain from a Broadway musical number, it's become the American way of life. Our country, which has 5 percent of the world's population, has 70 percent of its lawyers. Compliant judges, soft-hearted jurors and dollar-crazed lawyers have turned vast areas of civil law inside-out. The reasoning is: If somebody suffers-even by their own carelessness-someone else should pay-usually whoever has the deepest pockets.
The cost of defending against even apparently ridiculous litigation can wipe out an individual or business-all the more reason to guard against potential lawsuits by ensuring that your retread/repair/service personnel are well-trained, knowledgeable and current in their field.
Every business in the U.S. is affected by the problems caused by the expansion in the number of lawsuits filed each year, the size of the awards and the willingness of the courts to accept cases once thought frivolous. For instance, a felon who had mugged an elderly man in a New York subway was shot by a policeman while fleeing the scene. He sued, claiming he was the victim of excessive force, and was awarded $4.3 million.
The tire business is more exposed to litigation than most, as it runs a close second to the medical profession in the number of lawsuits filed annually.
Our problem is that we are selling and servicing a product that people literally bet their lives on every day. There will always be customers who feel, for one reason or another, they didn't get the service they expected. And as many of us learned long ago, the average customer doesn't know much about tires, except that they're filled with air.
Any kind of tire trouble tends to make motorists nervous, and a flat tire-whether the result of a puncture, impact damage or cut-often gets them mad.
If they've been badly scared or involved in an accident, they just may start looking around for someone to sue. In fact, if there's been an accident, a lawyer probably will contact them.
A bicyclist was awarded $7 million after being hit by a Jeep while riding his bike around midnight without lights. The Jeep's driver never saw him.
The court ordered the award because, it said, the bike manufacturer should have either attached a light as standard equipment or, at the least, warned buyers of the danger of riding a bike at night. A survey showed that 80 percent of U.S. children believed that reflectors alone without lights were safe enough at night.
A driver pushed his Mercury Cougar to more than 100 mph and was killed when one of its tires exploded and the car crashed. The tires were designed for a maximum speed of 85 mph.
Both Goodyear and Ford Motor Co. were held liable. The product was deemed ``defective'' for failing to protect against foreseeable negligence of this sort.
The plaintiff in an auto accident that allegedly resulted from the blowout of a tire with 33,600 miles on it stated that the tire had been defective. The tire was lost and could not be examined. An expert hired by the plaintiff said the tire had failed because it was defective at the time of manufacture.
Even though the expert acknowledged other possible causes of the tire's failure-such as running it in a deflated condition-the plaintiff won his case.
A service station worker tried to mount a 16-inch tire on what he thought was a 16-inch wheel. It was, in fact, a 16.5-inch wheel. When it wouldn't mount readily, he took it off, relubricated the beads and tried again-this time inflating the tire to 48 psi, which was above the design pressure.
The tire exploded, and the worker was seriously hurt. He sued, claiming Uniroyal had failed to warn of the risk of overinflating the tire on a wrong-size rim.
The court agreed the worker had made a mistake, but found that with better warning, he might have exercised greater caution. The tire was deemed defective as packaged.
Statistics confirm this relentless expansion of product liability lawsuits and awards. As a tire dealer or retreader, you must consider the fact that any product you sell or manufacture today may be the basis of a lawsuit tomorrow.
The fact is: No tire dealer or retreader can claim he never sold a substandard or defective tire. Though they're relatively rare, defective tires are produced and do cause thousands of injuries yearly.
Defending yourself against the possibility of a lawsuit calls for making sure that every new service technician or retread shop employee is thoroughly versed in proper procedures and techniques.
But training, by itself, accomplishes relatively little without the proper follow-through. What determines how workers perform on the job is the leadership they receive from their supervisors and the signals they get from their work environment.
Training must be part of an overall implementation program with a concerted follow-through process to make it stick.