CHICAGO-An outside-in tire plug repair has turned into a $12.7 million liability for a Chicago dealership blamed for a serious vehicle accident that left a passenger paralyzed. On May 12, a Chicago jury returned a verdict against Ress Enterprises Inc., which operates Army Trail Tire & Service in Carol Stream, Ill., for improperly repairing a punctured tire on a Ford Bronco in October 1988. Five months later, the Bronco, carrying five college students, experienced a tire blowout and rolled over, ejecting the passengers.
Mark Peterson, 22 at the time, suffered injuries that rendered him a quadriplegic.
In addition to Ress Enterprises, a Goodyear franchisee, Mr. Peterson sued: Goodyear, claiming liability under the principal-agency theory for allegedly neglecting to train and warn the dealership concerning tire repair procedures; Ford Motor Co., claiming the 1983 Bronco was defective because its fiberglass roof was not crash-worthy; and Bridge Products Inc., the distributor of the string plug.
The court dismissed claims against Goodyear, and Mr. Peterson settled with Bridge Products for $850,000. He also settled confidentially with Ford.
Ress Enterprises, which carried $2 million in liability insurance, is responsible for the $12.7 million verdict less amounts paid in past settlements, according to Ress' attorney, Alan Miller. He has filed a motion asking the judge to set aside the verdict.
During the civil trial, plaintiff's experts contended the tire was damaged when air seeped around the plug and into the tire, oxidizing the steel belts. At some point prior to the accident, the tire apparently hit an object on the road, causing the weakened belts to tear. This combination of factors resulted in the explosive release of air from the tire, according to the experts' testimony.
However, Ress Enterprises contended the tire plug didn't fail and further claimed there was no proof the tire the dealership repaired was the same tire that failed in the accident, according to Mr. Miller. The defense also contended the string plug repair was not inappropriate, Mr. Miller said.
For its part, Goodyear convinced the jury that the tire maker had communicated with its franchise on proper tire repair procedures, but since the dealership employees are not Goodyear employees, the tire maker had no obligation to train and monitor tire repair procedures on a daily basis, Goodyear's attorney Thomas Neuckranz said.
Furthermore, Goodyear claimed that such outside-in tire plug repairs are contrary to standards adhered to by Goodyear and other tire manufacturers.
The Rubber Manufacturers Association standards dictate that ``a plug by itself is an unacceptable repair.'' According to the RMA's Tire Industry Safety Council, which represents the consensus of its tire manufacturer members, a permanent repair should include sealing the inner liner with a patch, in addition to filling or plugging the injury. Removing the damaged tire from the wheel also allows the tire repairer to inspect for additional casing injury, according to the RMA.
Mr. Neuckranz said dealership employees testified that they knew about these standards but chose to repair tires with string plugs if customers insisted on cheaper repairs.