ST. LOUIS—A St. Louis jury has ordered Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. to pay $105 million to a man who was injured seriously in a 1991 truck tire explosion. The accident was caused by an allegedly faulty multi-piece truck rim made by a Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. subsidiary decades earlier. The jury on May 23 awarded Randy Dorman, a former employee of Tri-Star Tire Co. in St. Louis County, $5 million in compensatory damages and $100 million in punitive damages. BFS will appeal the verdict.
Mr. Dorman suffered fractures to his arms, cheekbone and jaw when the wheel's side ring blew away from the rim base while he was inflating a 20-inch truck tire.
The accident caused Mr. Dorman to undergo 26 surgeries and left him only 20- to 30-percent use of his right arm, said one of his attorneys, Jeffrey Lowe. Mr. Dorman's attorneys filed a suit in 1996 and named BFS the lone defendant.
The plaintiff's main contentions during the seven-day trial were that the RH5 multipiece wheel Mr. Dorman was servicing was defective at the center connection and could separate explosively on occasion.
Mr. Lowe charged that BFS was negligent for failing to warn and denying that the product could separate explosively, even when properly assembled.
"We allege that the RH5 product was taken off the market in about 1973 because of safety concerns, and then (the manufacturer) never warned anybody that they stopped making it because of safety concerns," Mr. Lowe said.
However, Mr. Dorman did not use a safety cage during the inflation. At the time of the accident, Tri-Star Tire left the use of a safety cage up to the discretion of its employees, he said.
"If (Tri-Star) thought they had a wheel that was iffy, then they would use one (safety cage)," Mr. Lowe said.
Mr. Dorman, 41, has received worker's compensation from his former employer. He has been unable to work since the accident, Mr. Lowe said.
BFS is confident the ruling eventually will be overturned, said Christine Karbowiak, BFS vice president of public affairs.
"Obviously, we're disappointed, and we don't believe it was warranted," she said. "We also believe that, based on the facts of the law, we should have won the case at the trial court level."
Ms. Karbowiak pointed out that BFS originally won the case against Mr. Dorman in summary judgment, but an appellate court ruled the suit should go to trial. She said the RH5 product alleged to have been involved in the accident was never produced by the plaintiff at trial.