ATLANTA-The Georgia Supreme Court has thrown out a $43 million judgment against Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co. for injuries related to a defective tire. It was one of the state's largest judgments. The state supreme court's decision in October upheld the state appellate court's reversal of the 1994 verdict and remanded the case to the trial court, saying the trial judge erred by allowing two juries to sit in on one trial and by instructing the jury about a law that disperses 75 percent of punitive damage awards to the state treasury.
The 1989 case involved Franklin E. Ford III and his parents who were traveling on route I-85 outside Atlanta when a tire blew out and wrapped around their van's axle, disabling the vehicle on an inside lane of the highway. While the Fords were still in the van, another vehicle rammed into the back of their van.
Mr. Ford, then 27, incurred severe brain damage and partial paralysis in the accident and has since required 24-hour care. His mother, Claudia Ford, suffered a broken leg and underwent numerous surgeries following the accident.
Both individually sued Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co., a Michelin North America subsidiary and the manufacturer of the damaged tire. The trial judge, in the interest of economy, consolidated the two plaintiffs' cases and seated two juries for one trial.
One jury awarded Mr. Ford $17.9 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages; the other jury awarded Mrs. Ford $150,000 in compensatory damages. U.G. Tire appealed both judgments.
The supreme court said trials cannot be conducted jointly unless both parties agree and determined that informing a jury about the 75-percent rule on punitive damages was prejudicial and irrelevant.
The plaintiffs' attorneys plan to take the case to trial again. The appeals decision ``has no impact on the evidence in the case,'' said attorney Jim Seifter, whose firm represents the Fords.
During the trial, the plaintiffs contended U.G. Tire concealed defects in its private-label Stratton Technical Excellence SP-7000 tire that could cause the tire to separate from the wheel rim. They claimed the tire had bad adhesion between the belts, as well as manufacturing and design problems.
U.G. Tire had called the juries' verdicts ``wholly irreconcilable'' and denied any fault with its tire, claiming the Fords' tire was underinflated and may have suffered impact damage prior to the accident.
The jury award was the second largest in Georgia's history, behind a $106 million judgment against General Motors Corp. in an accident case.