ALICE, Texas—Dolgencorp of Texas Inc. is pulling the flat-tire sealant Patch-A-Flat from its Dollar General store shelves after a Texas couple was awarded $80 million for serious injuries they received while using the product in 1998.
On Jan. 29, the company began removing the patching product from its more than 5,000 stores in 25 states, said Andrea Turner, corporate communications coordinator for Dollar General, a discount retail chain.
Tradco Corp., the Akron, Ohio-based automotive chemical company that produces the sealant, was held liable for the entire judgment in the case.
"We're being as aggressive as we possibly can under the circumstances," Ms. Turner said. "But it's just not an overnight process. We are in the process of removing the product."
Robert Perez, 21, and Melissa Elizondo, 20, were injured when a tire containing Patch-A-Flat exploded while Mr. Perez tried to repair the flat tire at his parents' home outside of Alice on June 13, 1998. A spark occurred when Mr. Perez attempted to remove a metal screw from the tire with pliers. The explosion was caused by propane and butane, two of the sealant's ingredients, said Anthony Constant, Ms. Elizondo's lawyer.
At the time of the explosion, Ms. Elizondo was standing behind Mr. Perez. She lost vision in one eye and suffered severe leg injuries requiring 10 surgeries, Mr. Constant said. Mr. Perez suffered burns and ear damage.
Mr. Constant alleged that the explosion occurred due to improper labeling on the sealant can.
"The problem (with Patch-A-Flat) is if you create a spark, you have a huge explosion. You don't just have a fire," he said.
There is no warning of the danger that the product will explode inside the tire, he added. "You have to figure that out. At the time this can was sold, the only warning (on the label) was `extremely flammable.'"
But Joe Epner, senior vice president of marketing development for Tradco, said the labels on the cans meet all government regulations.
Dollar General is one of the largest retailers of Patch-A-Flat, Mr. Epner said, noting the company's decision to pull the product from its shelves is for public relations reasons.
Mr. Epner wasn't sure whether Tradco will stop producing Patch-A-Flat, adding that a non-flammable version is made by Tradco, but isn't popular with retailers.
"If there was something wrong with the product, I think the government would've stopped not only Tradco," he said, "but everyone from making this product a long time ago."
Mr. Epner said the large verdict handed down by the jury in the 79th Judicial District Court in Jim Wells County was unfair to Tradco, but he was unsure if the firm will appeal.
He said he doesn't consider the product dangerous provided it is used as intended—for emergency use only and not for tire repair. "It's probably saved a lot more lives and a lot more injuries than I think it could have ever caused," he said.
Mr. Constant said he hopes the Patch-A-Flat formula will change.
"We assume, as consumers in America, that somebody is looking out for us. That if it's on the shelves it must be safe," he said. "And the truth of the matter is, there is no regulation in this industry except the court system."
Patch-A-Flat is not the first tire sealant to be under scrutiny.
The sealant marketed as STP Flat Fixer and STP Flat Tire Repair was taken off the market in 1994 when its producer, First Brands Corp., found it to be potentially dangerous to someone attempting to make a permanent repair on an inflated tire with the sealant in it.
In 1999, Pennzoil-Quaker State Co. recalled its Fix-A-Flat product from store shelves after the company was named in a lawsuit due to the explosion of a tire that was allegedly repaired with Fix-A-Flat.
While that product does not use a flammable propellant, it was determined it could cause an explosion if subjected to extreme heat.