RICHMOND, Va. — A federal judge in Richmond found "unpersuasive" the arguments of Hankook Tire Co. Ltd. and Hankook Tire America Corp. that they should be allowed a new trial in a product liability case involving a judgment of nearly $38 million against Hankook.
However, the judge did find that the trial jury had miscalculated the damage awards in the case, and revised them slightly downward, from $37,835,000 to $37,768,000.
The jury before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia handed down the original award March 9, 2018.
On Nov. 14, 2014, Robert Benedict was driving a 2007 Kenworth T800 cement mixer truck in Richmond. The right front steer tire, a Hankook Aurora TH08 radial size 425/65 R22.5, allegedly lost its tread and outer steel belt, causing the vehicle to hit an embankment and roll over, according to the complaint Benedict file in July 2017. Benedict suffered a spinal cord injury that left him paraplegic, the document said.
Benedict's complaint alleged that the Hankook tire had insufficient halobutyl in its inner tire compound to prevent oxygen from leaking into other components of the tire, weakening those components and causing the tread and belt separation.
In a motion filed April 6, 2018, Hankook asked the Eastern Virginia court for judgment as a matter of law—meaning the plaintiff did not sufficiently prove his case—or, barring that, a new trial.
"The overwhelming weight of evidence demonstrated that no negligent manufacturing defect caused the subject tire's failure," Hankook argued.
Hankook manufactured the tire nine years before the accident, and it suffered a significant road hazard impact fewer than 200 miles before the accident occurred, the tire maker said.
In his July 9 ruling, Judge Robert E. Payne denied Hankook's motion for either judgment as a matter of law or a new trial.
Payne noted that experts for Benedict and Hankook disagreed on the cause of the tire failure. "This is a classic 'battle of the experts' situation, and the court cannot find that the jury's decision to believe one expert over another was against the clear weight of the evidence," he wrote.
However, Payne did find that the jury's calculation of the damage award to Benedict was about $68,000 too high. He ruled that he would grant a new trial to Hankook only if Benedict refused the lower award. Benedict agreed to it July 10, the day after Payne's ruling.
"While we thank the judge for his consideration, we respectfully disagree with his denial of our request for a new trial," Hankook said in a statement.
Hankook said it would appeal the original jury verdict. It declined further comment, because the case is ongoing.