RICHMOND, Va. — A federal judge in Richmond has denied the request of Hankook Tire Co. Ltd. and Hankook Tire America Corp. to seal certain documents that are part of the evidence in a $37.8 million product liability case against the tire makers.
"Defendants' motion will be denied because defendants have waived any right to assert confidentiality," Senior Judge Robert E. Payne of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia wrote in his June 14 decision.
"Even if waiver had not occurred, defendants cannot rely on the previously protected status of any of these materials, and the relevant balancing tests counsel in favor of public access," Mr. Payne wrote.
A jury before the Eastern Virginia court granted Robert Benedict a $37.8 million product liability award in a March 9, 2018, judgment.
The accident in question occurred Nov. 14, 2014, according to the amended complaint Mr. Benedict filed July 12, 2017.
The plaintiff was driving a 2007 Kenworth T800 Cement Mixer Truck near Richmond when the right front steer tire, a Hankook Aurora TH08 radial, size 425/65 R22.5, allegedly lost its tread and outer steel belt, causing Mr. Benedict to lose control. The truck hit an embankment and rolled over.
Mr. Benedict suffered a spinal cord injury that left him paraplegic, the lawsuit said.
The plaintiff's attorneys claimed the tire had insufficient halobutyl in its inner liner, leaving it prone to leaks, and that Hankook's manufacturing process led to inadequate bonding of the tread to the carcass.
In denying the tire makers' confidentiality motion, Mr. Payne noted that both parties agreed in an April 2017 protective order to prevent public dissemination of any information deemed either proprietary or personal.
"Neither party, however, moved to seal any trial exhibits, testimony, or other materials before or at the jury trial," he wrote.
Mr. Payne refused to seal trial transcripts, exhibits presented openly at trial or certain jury instructions as the tire makers requested.
"The court…may determine whether materials previously designated as containing confidential information remained covered by the protective order at trial," he wrote. "The materials at issue here did not."