SALT LAKE CITY (Oct. 18, 2000)—Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. is not alone in facing lawsuits arising from fatal roll-over accidents allegedly caused by sudden tread separations on its tires.
The widows of three Salt Lake City men killed when their van crashed last year have sued Goodyear and M&T Inc., owner of a Salt Lake City Big O Tire store.
The plaintiffs´ complaint alleges that on July 16, 1999, the tread and belts separated from a Kelly-Springfield Metric Radial tire on a van driven by 64-year-old Asiasiga Fauga. The van spun out of control and rolled over several times, killing Mr. Fauga and two passengers—Maeaeafe Tony Seve Leapai Anapu, 45, and Benjamin Solovi, 62.
Maria Anapu, Tia Solovi and Nua Fauga, all of the Salt Lake City area, filed suit for undetermined damages Sept. 20 in the Third Judicial Court of Salt Lake County. Attorneys Robert B. Sykes of Robert B. Sykes & Associates, Salt Lake City and William S. Frates of Frates & Smith P.L.C. in Vero Beach, Fla., are representing the women.
Mr. Frates, who specializes in tire liability litigation, said his firm is working on 10 to 15 such cases, but this is the only one involving a Goodyear-manufactured tire. He said Mr. Sykes contacted him for help in this case.
The accident occurred on westbound Interstate 80 about eight miles east of the Utah-Nevada border.
A couple traveling in the same direction saw the tire on the right rear wheel of Mr. Fauga´s van "break up" shortly after the van passed them, Mr. Sykes said. The witnesses also saw the van go out of control and crash, he said.
"There doesn´t appear to be any contributory negligence," Mr. Sykes added. "They (Mr. Fauga´s van) may have been going 5 mph over the speed limit." The speed limit on that portion of the highway is 75 mph, he said.
The accident occurred in the Great Salt Lake Desert area and is near the Bonneville Speedway and salt flats, where many auto speed records have been set.
Interstate 80 is wide and straight in this area, Mr. Sykes said, and the temperature was probably in the low 90s at the time of the accident.
"There was plenty of tread on that tire," he added.
The plaintiffs´ attorneys sent the tire to Jack Taylor, a tire consultant in Cedar, Mich., for analysis. The consultant, who has 30 years in the tire industry, according to Mr. Sykes, reported the tire´s inner liner was too thin and didn´t go all the way around and the bead was poorly constructed.
The Kelly tire, size 205/70R14, was manufactured in 1994 at the Goodyear plant in Americana, Brazil. Mr. Fauga bought the 1991 Oldsmobile Silhouette minivan in June 1997 and purchased the tire from the Big O store sometime later.
The suit also claims Mr. Fauga brought the van back to the Big O store a few weeks before the accident for undetermined service on the tire that later failed.
Goodyear hasn´t examined the tire, a company spokesman said, "so we can´t make any determination as to the cause (of the alleged failure)." Goodyear tracks data from the field on the performance of the tires it makes and sells, he said, and there is nothing in this data to indicate any problems with this tire or the plant in Brazil.
"Anytime we see a situation like this, we´re obviously concerned about it," he added.