LOS ANGELES (June 28, 2000)—A Los Angeles man has won over $15 million from Dunlop Tire Corp. and a Los Angeles Ford dealership in a product liability case which Dunlop claims was filled with irregularities from the beginning.
Joven Mapa and his family were driving to Las Vegas in November 1997 in his 1991 Ford Aerostar van when the left rear tire, a Dunlop Axiom 70, blew out. The van overturned; Mr. Mapa was rendered quadriplegic, and surgeons were forced to remove part of his stomach and intestines.
Mr. Mapa sued Dunlop, El Monte Ford and Ford Motor Co. for $100 million, claiming the tire was defective and that the service manager at the dealership never told him about a mechanic´s notation that the tire had a tread separation.
The Los Angeles Superior Court jury apportioned Mr. Mapa himself 12 percent of the blame in the accident, determining he had been driving over the speed limit and should have been able to keep control of the van despite the blowout. Dunlop was apportioned 31 percent of the liability, and El Monte Ford the rest. Ford Motor Co. settled out of court earlier for $1 million.
Mr. Mapa lost $1.8 million of the approximately $15 million verdict from his portion of the liability, according to Don Fountain, the West Palm Beach, Fla. attorney who represented him. But California law also allows for prejudgment interest in product liability cases, and that should add another $2 million or so to Mr. Mapa´s total, he said.
"It´s been a very long fight for my clients, and a very expensive fight," Mr. Fountain said. "They´re glad to get to this stage of the litigation."
Dunlop, meanwhile, plans to appeal to a California state appellate court, according to Todd Theodora, the Los Angeles attorney representing the tire maker.
All the irregularities that occurred during the trial will be spelled out in Dunlop´s appeals brief, which will be filed within the next several weeks, Mr. Theodora said. But among other things, evidence was presented at trial showing the tire had suffered heavy damage before the accident, causing it to break 30 of its steel cables.
Furthermore, there was evidence that Mr. Mapa knew there was a problem with the tire, and told the service writer so, when he brought the van in for servicing, he said.
Dunlop´s share of the verdict—approximately $4 million—is one-fifth the settlement demand Mr. Mapa made of the tire maker, according to Mr. Theodora.
"It´s an interesting point that in speaking with the jurors afterward, they felt the tire had sustained some impact before the accident," he said. "It was a combination of sympathy for the plaintiff and the irregularities at trial that resulted in the verdict, because this was a well-made, well-designed tire."
It will take "a couple of years" for Dunlop to get a new trial in this case, according to Mr. Theodora. Part of the difficulty is that Dunlop is filing for appeal separate from El Monte Ford, because the trial irregularities involved the tire maker only.