Oct. 21 is the date a Wichita Falls court is scheduled to begin a wrongful death case against Michelin North America Inc. and DaimlerChrysler Inc. involving a 1993 Dodge Ram church van equipped with Michelin XCH4 tires.
Twelve women from the First Assembly Church of God in Burkburnett, Texas, were traveling to a Gainesville, Texas, outlet mall on May 8, 2001. They were headed east on Route 287 near Wichita Falls when the tread on one of the tires allegedly separated, causing the 15-passenger van to veer out of control and roll over several times. Four of the women were killed, and the other eight permanently disabled.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs claim this model of Ram van is particularly susceptible to rollover in an emergency, and that DaimlerChrysler knew this before selling the van to the church.
``The government has issued two unusual consumer alerts warning that drivers need special skills to operate these 15-passenger vans,'' said David Perry, the lead plaintiffs' attorney in the case, in a press release. ``However, no special license is required to drive them.''
The suit also claims that Michelin neither properly vulcanized the tires nor properly safeguarded against tread separation in their design. It accuses the tire maker of not giving either DaimlerChrysler or the plaintiffs adequate warning of possible risks involving the tires.
Besides Michelin North America, the plaintiffs also sued Michelin North America (Canada) Inc., because the tires were made in Canada, and Michelin Americas Research & Development Co. Judge Roy Sparkman, who is hearing the case in the 78th Texas District Court in Wichita Falls, is expected to rule in September whether the French parent company may also be included as a defendant. A Michelin spokeswoman said the tire's age, not its manufacture, was behind the crash.
``We sincerely regret the tragic loss of life that resulted from this accident,'' she said. ``We, like everyone involved, want to know the facts. So far, the facts of this crash tell us that the tire in question was original equipment on the 1993 van and that the tire shows clear signs of weathering and abuse.''
A DaimlerChrysler spokeswoman denied the Ram van was more prone to rollover than any other vehicle.
``The van did continue going straight after the tire blew out, so the blowout wasn't the cause of the rollover,'' she said. ``The driver swerved to avoid another vehicle, which caused the van to enter the dirt and grass in the median. That's a scenario where any vehicle would roll over.''
Mr. Perry was unavailable for comment.