WASHINGTON — The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has opened an investigation of Goodyear over allegedly defective G159 tires installed on Class A motor homes.
The announcement of the OIG investigation the week of July 30 is in addition to the preliminary evaluation of approximately 40,000 G159 tires manufactured between 1996 and 2003.
The evaluation was initiated in December 2017 by the Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) at the DOT's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
An OIG spokeswoman acknowledged the G159 investigation but declined further comment because the investigation is ongoing.
At the time it began its evaluation, ODI said it had received 10 complaints about failures of G159 tires in service on Class A motor homes, including two crashes or fires, 13 injuries and one fatality.
In addition, ODI obtained complaint and claim data regarding G159 tires through a court order authorizing the release of Goodyear records to NHTSA, according to the ODI resume on the matter.
The data alleged that G159 tires failed in service, causing deaths or personal injuries, ODI said.
"The number of these claims suggests that the failures may stem from a safety-related defect," it said.
In April 2018, ODI sent a letter to Goodyear, giving the tire maker 30 days to answer a long list of questions about the G159 tire.
The questions included production figures and details; modifications in design, composition or production between 1996 and the present; information about adjustments and service bulletins; information on internal studies and investigations of the tires; and information on the G159's characteristics and performance.
In the letter, ODI said Goodyear could face penalties of $21,000 per violation per day, to a maximum of $105 million, for failing to respond promptly and fully to the agency's questions.
The court case from which ODI received the data was filed in 2005 by Leroy Haeger, who had been seriously injured along with his family two years before when their motor home crashed. Haeger claimed a G159 original equipment tire on the vehicle was defective.
Goodyear settled with the Haegers in 2010, but the Haegers' attorney later learned of Goodyear tests disclosed in a subsequent lawsuit, and filed another suit accusing Goodyear and its attorneys of deliberately withholding evidence.
In November 2012, a judge in the Arizona federal district court found for the Haegers. Besides authorizing the release of the documents to NHTSA, she also ordered Goodyear and the attorneys to pay more than $2.7 million in attorneys' fees and court costs to the Haegers.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the monetary award in July 2015. However, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed and remanded the award in April 2017.
By an 8-0 vote, the high court ruled that the lower courts erred in ordering Goodyear and the attorneys to pay all of the Haegers' attorneys' fees and court costs, instead of only those that arose specifically from Goodyear's alleged misconduct.
Unlike ODI, the OIG's authority extends to criminal as well as civil charges. Its purview includes crimes with a public safety impact, according to the OIG website.
Goodyear officials have not responded to requests for comment.