WASHINGTON — Two major automotive-related scandals constituted the lion's share of vehicle-related lawsuits filed in 2015.
Those were the Takata Corp. recall of more than 19 million airbags installed in vehicles from 12 auto makers, and the revelation that Volks-wagen A.G. sold perhaps as many as 11 million diesel-powered vehicles worldwide with faulty or illegal emissions control equipment.
However, there was no dearth of specifically tire-related lawsuits during the year, as well as further litigation that also had some impact on the tire industry.
Many of the tire-specific lawsuits dealt with issues of copyright or product infringement. Perhaps the most flagrant violations were revealed in the case Japanese tire maker Toyo Tire & Rubber Co. filed against a Chinese tire maker, Kabusikiki Kaisha Tokyo Hihoon Rubber Corp., and its associated business Japan Toyomoto Tire Corp.
In October, a Nevada judge granted Toyo's motion for a permanent injunction against the Beijing-based companies, as well as $300,000 in statutory damages
Judge Cam Ferenbach found the Chinese tire makers had not only infringed on Toyo's trademarks and counterfeited its designs since 2010, but also marketed the infringing tires at the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show. It was at the 2014 trade show in Las Vegas that Toyo discovered the Toyomoto counterfeits, Toyo said.
Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations L.L.C. filed two patent infringement lawsuits regarding its tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) patents.
In September, Bridgestone Americas settled its lawsuit in Delaware federal district court against TRW Automotive Inc. and its EnTire Solutions L.L.C. subsidiary.
Bridgestone Americas accused TRW and EnTire of selling TPMS devices, including sensors, that violated Bridgestone patents.
However, Bridgestone Americas fared less well in its suit against Schrader-Bridgeport International Inc. In June, a jury in the Delaware court ruled that Schrader didn't infringe on Bridgestone's TPMS patents.
Industrial espionage also figured in 2015's lawsuits. In May, South Korean firm Kolon Industries Inc. pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal trade secrets from E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. regarding the manufacture of Kevlar, a high-strength para-aramid fiber developed by Dupont that is used in tires and many other products.
Goodyear was involved in two trade cases during 2015. In October, the Akron-based tire maker settled its breach of contract suit in Akron federal district court against Sears, Roebuck & Co.
According to the suit, Sears abruptly switched tire suppliers in June 2014 and refused to accept the nearly 220,000 co-branded Good-year Weatherhandler Fuel Max tires Goodyear had made for Sears. In September, distributor TBC Corp. began offering the Weatherhandler Fuel Max tires for sale.
Meanwhile, in August, Laurel, Miss.-based tire wholesaler Robison Tire Co. filed suit in Mississippi chancery court seeking a restraining order to halt Goodyear's move to foreclose on Robison Tire.
One week later, Goodyear filed suit in Akron federal court seeking nearly $6.3 million in damages from Robison for alleged breach of contract, action on account and unjust enrichment.
In October, Good-year said it was reviewing its options in a $16 million personal injury judgment in a Berrien County, Mich., court.
In that case, Harishkumar Patel was driving from South Bend, Ind., to his home in Benton Harbor, Mich., in June 2012 when his Nissan Pathfinder overturned, causing permanent paralysis. The jury accepted Mr. Patel's argument that the Goodyear right rear tire on the vehicle was defective, despite Goodyear's argument that the failed tire had been damaged by a road hazard.
The abortive merger between Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. and Apollo Tyres Ltd. was also the subject of lawsuits in 2015.
In July, a judge in Delaware federal court granted Cooper's petition for dismissal of a securities class-action lawsuit brought by three investment firms that claimed Cooper deliberately withheld the opposition of Chengshan Group, co-owner of Cooper Chengshan Tire Co Ltd. in China, to the merger with Apollo.
Two investors, Amit Kanodia and Iftkar Ahmed, were charged in Connecticut federal court in April for alleged insider trading involving the Cooper-Apollo deal.
According to the suit, Mr. Kanodia learned the details of the transaction from his wife, who was then Apollo's general counsel. Mr. Kanodia in turn told Mr. Ahmed, who bought up Cooper stock, then sold it for more than $1.1 million when the acquisition was announced, the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) alleged.
Mr. Ahmed allegedly paid Mr. Kanodia a $220,000 kickback, which was hidden as a contribution to a charitable fund operated by Mr. Kanodia.
The case involving Messrs. Kanodia and Ahmed is still pending, but in November the SEC settled with Steven C. Watson, another alleged participant in the scheme.
The federal government also found itself the defendant as well as the plaintiff in lawsuits. In March, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters filed suit against the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, challenging the DOT's decision to open U.S. highways to Mexican trucks.
There also were a number of discrimination suits brought before the Equal Employment Opportunity Com-mission (EEOC).
In November, National Tire & Battery (NTB), part of TBC Retail Group, paid $22,500 to settle a national origin and religious harassment suit brought by an unnamed Muslim Arab mechanic. The man claimed that his managers and co-workers at the NTB outlets in Matteson and Orland Park, Ill., called him “Taliban,” “al-Qaeda,” “bin Laden” and “terrorist.”
Also, uniform manufacturer Cintas Corp. paid $1.5 million in December to settle an EEOC sex discrimination suit. According to the EEOC, Cintas failed to hire women at a statistically significant level in Michigan between 1999 and 2005, although women applied for jobs.
Cintas said the agency's charges were without merit but settled, nonetheless.
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