CINCINNATI—A federal appeals court on Dec. 5 reversed an earlier jury verdict and ruled Michelin Tire Corp. was not responsible for a 1989 ``mismatch'' tire explosion that injured a Kentucky man who attempted to mount a 16-inch tire on a 16.5-inch rim. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati said ``there was no failure in the design to render the tire unreasonably dangerous, nor any failure by Michelin to render an adequate warning about any known design defect.
``There is a questionable basis, therefore, on which to hold Michelin liable for injury in the plaintiff's attempt to mount an obviously worn and deteriorated tire, which was inflated beyond the recommended pressure—even for a new tire,'' according to the appeals court decision.
A federal jury in 1994 had awarded plaintiff Jackie Tipton $63,000 from Michelin when it decided the tire maker was 21-percent responsible for the explosion, although it found no defect in the tire.
The same jury also had found Mr. Tipton 52-percent responsible for the explosion and Kelsey-Hayes Co., the maker of the tire rim, 27-percent responsible. Kelsey-Hayes settled the case before it went to trial.
The explosion resulted when Mr. Tipton attempted to mount a used, 16-inch Michelin tire, made in 1987, on what Mr. Tipton believed to be a 16-inch rim. However, the rim was 16.5 inches, which prevented the tire bead from seating.
Mr. Tipton, a mechanic and owner of Tipton Motor Co. in Irvine, Ky., suffered extensive injuries to his face and arm from the explosion, according to his attorney, David Pratt.
``The jury unquestionably felt that Michelin had a role in this accident,'' Mr. Pratt said.
The appeals court said Mr. Tipton, who had been changing and handling tires for 30 years, didn't adhere to the warning not to inflate the tire beyond 40 pounds of pressure. The court also said Mr. Tipton did not check the tire rim size.
The Michelin tire also carried the following warning on its sidewall: ``Mount only on approved 16-inch rims.''
``Michelin is very pleased that its position was vindicated and that the jury agreed with them that there was no defect in the tire,'' the company said.
Mr. Pratt argued that Michelin also should put warnings against mismatch in its owner manuals. The 16.5-inch rims already are in the market, so tire makers also can design tire beads that don't explode, he said.
Mismatch accidents involving tires from Michelin and other manufacturers have caused 527 reported injuries and deaths, the lawyer said. ``People don't know the enormity of the problem.''
Mr. Pratt said he may request a rehearing, despite the fact Michelin has been ``quite successful in defending these cases,'' he said.