TAMPA, Fla.-Pirelli Armstrong Tire Corp. is preparing to appeal a jury's decision that the tire maker was at fault in an accident that claimed the lives of two parents. After a two-week trial in March in the Circuit Court of Hillsborough County, the jury found PATC failed to warn Al Jensen about potential problems that could result from the use of damaged or worn tires.
Mr. Jensen was driving his 1985 Chevrolet van on Interstate 4 near Lakeland, Fla., in December 1993 when the tread on one of the tires reportedly separated, forcing him to pull off the roadway.
As Mr. Jensen attempted to straighten the vehicle so it was parallel to the road, he lost control and the van flipped over on its side. Another car struck the van. Mr. Jensen and his wife, Ginny, were killed but their 4-year-old son survived.
Although the court case only involved PATC, the jury found that the driver of the car that struck Mr. Jensen's van was 30 percent responsible for the accident.
The jury assessed a total award of $6.7 million, with PATC responsible for $5.4 million in damages, according to Hugh Smith, the attorney for the Jensen estate.
The case involving Al Jensen is the first of several claims and counterclaims in the accident to go to trial. Litigation against PATC on behalf of Ginny Jensen is expected to go to trial in September.
Attorney Smith said expert testimony during the trial showed that water had intruded into the van's Sears Guardsman radial tire, made in 1987 by the former Armstrong Rubber Co., eventually causing the steel belt to rust and leading to tire failure. There was no label on the tire warning Mr. Jensen that water could intrude into the tire, Mr. Smith claimed. There was no visible damage to the tire, which had 12,000 miles of wear, he added.
PATC's attorney in the case, Benjamine Reid, was unavailable for comment, however he told the Herald-Tribune in Sarasota, Fla., that Mr. Jensen ``completely ignored warnings'' written on the tire, in the van's owners' manual and in a booklet that came with a new set of tires he purchased. The faulty tire came as a spare with the van when Mr. Jensen purchased the vehicle nearly five years before the crash, according to Mr. Reid. He also told the paper that the tire maker feels it has ``very significant evidence to warrant an appeal.''
Mr. Smith said the Jensen family did not sue Sears, Roebuck and Co., the retailer of the private-brand tire, since his research found that Sears ``was not responsible'' in the case.
The chance of winning is ``wonderful'' in the Ginny Jen-sen suit against PATC, he said, because ``the liability has been determined (in the Al Jensen case). Only the amount has to be determined.''
In addition to the lawsuit on behalf of Mrs. Jensen, other pending litigation include a suit against PATC by car driver Kristal Ohden, who suffered brain damage in the accident; counterclaims between Ms. Ohden and the Jensen estate; and lawsuits filed by Ms. Ohden's passenger, Jeffrey Haney, against PATC and the Jensen estate.