LOS ANGELES (March 29, 2010) — A California Superior Court jury has ordered tire retailer American Tire Depot to pay $18 million to a Monrovia, Calif., family who lost their 11-year-old son in a rollover accident in 2006 involving a recalled Firestone Radial ATX on a Ford Explorer SUV, according to attorneys for the family.
The jury's verdict came despite evidence that American Tire Depot presented showing it did not install the tire in question, according to the dealership's attorney, William DelHagen of the law firm Murchison & Cumming L.L.P.
The jury found Cerritos, Calif.-based American Tire Depot 85-percent negligent for installing the 12-year-old spare, the plaintiffs' attorneys said, despite the tire's recall status and Bridgestone Americas' inspection guidelines against using tires more than 10 years of age.
The Moreno family had settled separate suits with Ford Motor Co. and Bridgestone Americas prior to the start of this trial, Mr. DelHagen said.
The accident in question occurred May 24, 2006.
The victim, Willie Moreno, was the rear seat passenger in a Ford Explorer driven by his brother Ramon Moreno Jr. when the left rear tire allegedly suffered a tread separation on California Highway 15 in Riverside County.
Willie Moreno, who was wearing his seatbelt, was partially ejected in the rollover crash and died of massive head injuries, according to the plaintiffs' attorneys, Corpus Christi, Texas-based Sico, White, Hoelscher & Braugh L.L.P.
“This tragedy could have been easily prevented,” said attorney Roger Braugh, who represented the Moreno family. “The facts of this case showed very clearly that American Tire Depot did not offer even a minimum of professional attention to tire safety.”
In January 2006, the plaintiffs' attorneys said, Ramon Moreno Sr. brought the family's 1994 Ford Explorer to an American Tire Depot store in Monrovia to replace two rear tires. American Tire Depot, a Firestone dealer, advised Mr. Moreno to rotate the spare, a recalled Firestone Radial ATX, onto the vehicle and sold him one new tire, the plaintiffs charged.
American Tire Depot maintains the personnel at the Monrovia store—the location has since closed—did not put the spare tire on the vehicle, Mr. DelHagen said.
Both Mr. Moreno's original invoice and American Tire Depot's computer records presented in court shows Mr. Moreno was charged for a new tire that was put on the vehicle, but they do not show any mounting/balancing charges associated with handling a second tire, Mr. DelHagen said.
Even “no charge” work is always added to this record, he said, but there was none on this transaction.
“In our opinion,” Mr. DelHagen said, “the jury's sympathy overwhelmed their consideration of the facts presented.” He declined to comment on the possibility of an appeal.
The Moreno family, who had purchased the Explorer used in 2005, was unaware that the Firestone spare was 12 years old and part of the 2000 recall of Firestone Wilderness and Radial ATX P-metric light truck tires, the plaintiffs' attorneys said.
At the time American Tire Depot allegedly installed the recalled tire, both Ford and Firestone had issued warnings against using aged tires.
The tire techs at the dealership did not follow these guidelines, nor did they check to determine if the tire was recalled, the plaintiffs charged.
Mr. DelHagen also said physical evidence on the Firestone tire showed it had fewer wear miles than the Goodyear tire American Tire Depot had installed and that it had no visible wear marks that would come from the spare carrier had it been there for 200,000 miles, as the plaintiff asserted.
Since the accident the Moreno family has advocated for better tire safety laws, the plantiffs' attorneys said. Ramon Moreno Jr. testified before the California Assembly in 2009 to urge the legislature to pass a bill requiring tire dealers to disclose tire age.
“Now all we can hope for is that Willie's death can result in some positive change so that other families don't have to live through what we have lived through,” Ramon Moreno Jr. said.
To reach Bruce Davis: [email protected]; 330-865-6145.