PITTSBURGH—A federal jury has decided General Motors Corp. was not liable for the injuries of a 49-year-old Pennsylvania resident hurt while attempting to put a 16-inch tire on a 16.5-inch rim. The seven-member jury in the U.S. District Court for Western Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh decided April 16 that GM was not at fault either in regard to the design of the 16.5-inch rim or for failing to warn the plaintiff against the possibility of mismatching it with a 16-inch tire.
The tire on a 1979 Chevrolet van exploded while the plaintiff, Frank Magill Jr. of West Elizabeth, Pa., was inflating it on a 16.5-inch rim. The 1992 accident cost Mr. Magill the use of his right hand.
Earlier, two other companies associated with the accident had reached out-of-court settlements with Mr. Magill totalling $725,000, according to Thomas J. Sweeney Jr., a Pittsburgh attorney who successfully defended GM at the trial.
Wheel manufacturer Kelsey Hayes International settled with the plaintiff for $475,000 and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., which made the tire, settled for $250,000, he said.
Mr. Sweeney, of the law firm Eckert, Seamans & Mellott, said the GM case ultimately focused on two key issues:
1) whether the potential to put a 16-inch tire on a 16.5-inch rim amounts to a defect in the design of that rim; and
2) whether GM, as the manufacturer of the vehicle, was a co-designer of that rim and therefore respon-sible for failing to warn the plaintiff of that possi-bility.
In both cases, the jury decided in GM's favor, ruling that the automaker was not a co-designer of the rim and that a defect condition did not exist, according to Mr. Sweeney.
``I think ultimately what they concluded was that the accident occurred because the plaintiff misused the product—that (when) you put a 16-inch tire on a 16.5-inch wheel that's a misuse,'' he said.