PITTSBURGH — The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania has denied Goodyear's motion for sanctions in a product liability lawsuit in which a key piece of evidence went missing.
Gary Charcalla was driving his 2000 Freightliner FL60 truck when the front left tire on the vehicle suffered an alleged tread separation. The truck went out of control and struck several trees, killing Mr. Charcalla and injuring several passengers.
Mr. Charcalla's wife sued Goodyear. She claimed that the tire, a Goodyear G647 all-steel commercial truck tire manufactured in 2003, was defective.
Progressive Corp., Mr. Charcalla's insurer, towed the truck to a salvage yard in Virginia, where it was stored.
At the time, Progressive took pictures of the truck which showed the front axle was fitted with a steer damper, an aftermarket stabilizer designed to prevent loss of control during a tire blowout, according to the June 23 ruling handed down by Judge Joy Flowers Conti.
In May 2013, however, it was discovered that the entire front axle, including the steer damper, was missing. Investigators hired separately by Goodyear and Progressive failed to find the missing parts, according to Judge Conti's opinion, and no explanation for their absence was ever found.
Goodyear filed a motion for sanctions against the plaintiffs, claiming spoliation, or alteration, of the evidence. Judge Conti, however, ruled that Goodyear failed to prove its case.
Federal precedent demands that a finding of bad faith is crucial to any claim of spoliation of evidence, according to Judge Conti.
"Goodyear failed to adduce any evidence that the front axle assembly and steer damper were intentionally destroyed, or that plaintiff otherwise acted in bad faith with respect to their disappearance," she wrote.