JACKSON, Miss. (April 28, 2009)—Goodyear said it is considering its options following the Mississippi Court of Appeals' upholding a $2.1 million verdict in a product liability-wrongful death case.
The appeals court ruled April 21 that Goodyear and Big 10 Tires & Accessories, a Hattiesburg, Miss., tire store, were at least partly to blame in the August 2000 crash in Copiah County, Miss., that killed 20-year-old driver Travis Kirby and injured his passengers, 18-year-old Riley Strickland and 19-year-old Sidney Odom.
“While our sympathies are with the families affected by this tragic accident, thorough forensic analysis of the tire in question indicated the tire suffered from some form of impact damage prior to its accident,” Goodyear said in a prepared statement.
Mark Norton, an attorney for Big 10, said the company was disappointed in the appeals court decision.
“It was undisputed that the teenaged driver was driving more than 90 mph with a blood alcohol content more than triple the legal limit,” Mr. Norton said. Big 10 is pleased, however, that the court acknowledged the tires installed by the dealership were the correct size and acceptable speed rating for Mr. Kirby's car, he added.
Big 10 Tires & Accessories, which has its headquarters in Jackson, Miss., is a different company from the Mobile, Ala.-based Big 10 Tires Inc. that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier this year. Big 10 Tires Inc. has 82 stores in Georgia, Alabama and Florida, but none in Mississippi, according to Don Kennemer, CEO of Big 10 Tires Inc.
Mr. Kirby's parents as well as Messrs. Strickland and Odom, sued Goodyear, Big 10 Tires & Accessories and Howard Wilson Chrysler-Jeep Inc., claiming the right rear Kelly Charger SR tire on Mr. Kirby's Chevrolet Camaro Z28 was defective.
The plaintiffs also noted that the tires on the car were not Z-rated, high-performance tires as specified by General Motors Corp., but lower-performance, S-rated tires. The owner of the car before Mr. Kirby had refused to buy Z-rated tires because of the higher price.
In their defense, the defendants noted that Mr. Kirby and at least one of his passengers were above the state's legal limit for alcohol consumption and allegedly were not wearing seat belts when the car skidded off the road, rolled over and struck two trees. (Mr. Kirby's blood alcohol content was .25, whereas the legal limit in Mississippi is .08.)
The plaintiffs' expert witness, Robert Ochs, claimed a shearographic inspection showed two of the Camaro's three remaining tires to have small separations between the belts. However, Goodyear's expert witness, James Gardner, testified the right rear tire had a puncture, showing the jury a cut and gouge on the upper side of the tire's shoulder.
In its instructions to the jury, the trial court threw out all allegations of a design defect, and noted there was no evidence of illegality or negligence when Big 10 put S-rated tires on the vehicle.
However, it did allow the jury to consider whether Goodyear failed to comply with an express warranty. The right rear tire came apart at 92 mph after 10,000 miles, the court noted, whereas the tire had a 50,000-mile warranty and was speed-rated at up to 112 mph.
On that basis, the jury awarded more than $2.6 million total from Goodyear and Big 10 to Messrs. Odom and Strickland and Mr. Kirby's parents, but subtracted the $495,000 settlement Howard Wilson Chrysler-Jeep had already paid.
In its ruling, the appeals court found the trial court did not err in allowing the jury to consider the breach of warranty question. Though Goodyear argued before the appeals court that there was no evidence to support the existence of a warranty, the appeals court ruled the company erred by not specifically making this objection before the trial court.
The appeals court also shot down Goodyear's other accusations of error during the original trial. These included the Akron-based tire maker's allegation that a member of the jury failed to disclose that her son had been killed in an auto accident, and that one of the plaintiffs' attorneys was a pallbearer at the son's funeral.
Both the juror and the attorney later testified that they did not know each other, and that the juror had not known the attorney was a pallbearer at her son's funeral. Because Goodyear offered no evidence to contradict these statements, the appeals court rejected the argument.