Not tire maker's fault
While I am sorry to read that a woman who was involved in a car accident suffered a life-altering injury, I don't know that Michelin North America Inc. should be found at fault in this incident, at least not totally.
Just about every tire manufacturer that I know of will suggest that new tires be installed on the rear in this situation. I doubt that it should be considered the fault of the manufacturer.
Since I have come to the wholesale side of the industry, I have found that many of the retail shops that we deal with take safety for granted. Misapplication of speed ratings, sizes, tread designs and, in this case, incorrect placement of new rubber are problems that I hear about every day.
I believe the more guilty party here is the retail operation that installed the tires. Michelin, nor any other manufacturer for that matter, has little control over how a retailer applies their product. I believe the manufacturer's responsibility lies more in the safety and quality of the product, as well as being able to provide educational materials to the retailer. It is then the retailer's responsibility to put those educational materials to use.
The owners/operators of those retail centers should be making sure that their employees have been properly trained in the services they are providing. All the manufacturers really can do is provide information and stress its importance. They can't force the recipients to actually use that information. Continuing education needs to be a part of every retail operation—whether it's selling screwdrivers or selling tires—but especially when people's safety is involved.
It really scares me to hear some of the things retailers do, or try to do. I am so glad that I am involved in this industry and know whom I can trust to do a good job when servicing my vehicles. I also know whom it would be difficult to trust, whether because of inexperience, ignorance or simply not having their customers' best interests in mind.
(Editor's note: Drusilla Boudreaux recently sued Michelin and was awarded $32.4 million after a jury found the tire maker liable for a car accident on Labor Day 2002 that left the Gonzalez, La., woman a paraplegic. She was a passenger in a vehicle that skidded off an interstate, crashed and caught fire. The plaintiff's attorney argued in court that Michelin had neglected to tell the tire dealership that installed two new tires on the driver's car that, in cases when only two new tires are purchased, they should always go on the rear axle. The jury absolved both the retail dealership that installed the tires and the wholesaler that supplied them. Michelin said it plans to appeal the verdict. The story appeared in the Oct. 22 issue of Tire Business.)
In a quandary
From the introduction of front-wheel-drive vehicles and because of the increased wear on front tires, we have been advising our customers to rotate their tires in order to even out the wear.
However, if we continue this practice—so the front tires with less tread are installed on the rear of the vehicle—we could be liable, too, as in the Michelin lawsuit in Louisiana, unless the tire manufacturers are willing to provide us with some guidelines.
Even if dealers put the two new tires on the rear as recommended, what are they supposed to do when that customer comes back for the suggested rotation?
Montvale Tire Car Care Center Inc.