WASHINGTON — As in most years, litigation was a constant for the tire industry in 2018.
Government court actions on trade and product quality vied for industry attention with lawsuits involving product liability, alleged trademark violations and alleged patent infringement.
One of the biggest court-related stories of 2018 came to light in January when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Office of Defect Investigation (ODI) opened an investigation of approximately 40,000 Goodyear G159 commercial vehicle tires manufactured between 1996 and 2003, some of which are tied to a series of Class A motor home crashes.
The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Department of Transportation disclosed in July it was conducting an investigation of allegedly defective Goodyear G159 tires installed on Class A motor homes.
The information on which OIG and ODI based their actions came from a court case filed in 2005 in Arizona federal district court by a family seriously injured in the tire-related crash of their motor home.
The case culminated in November 2012 with the judge ordering the release of Goodyear documents to NHTSA.
Two decisions from later in the year came out of the U.S. Court of International Trade (CIT).
On Nov. 1, the CIT remanded to the International Trade Commission (ITC) its February 2017 negative injury determination on truck and bus tires from China.
The remand meant that the ITC had to reconsider its decision that Chinese truck and bus tire imports were not causing material injury to the U.S. tire industry.
The United Steelworkers (USW) union, which originally petitioned the ITC for countervailing and antidumping duties against Chinese truck and bus tires, appealed the ITC decision to the CIT in April 2017. The commission erred in finding neither price dampening nor threats to U.S. tire production in its determination, and the CIT agreed.
As well as the USW, the retread advocacy group Retread Instead was pleased with the CIT remand. The U.S. retread industry, Retread Instead argued, is threatened by cheap Chinese truck tires that are both non-retreadable and cheaper than retreads.
Later in November, the CIT granted the U.S. Department of Commerce's motion to dismiss a case brought against the agency by Zhongce Rubber Group Co. Ltd.
Commerce levied a 119.46-percent countervailing duty rate against Zhongce in March 2018. Zhongce appealed, arguing that Commerce's application of "adverse facts available" against the company during the countervailing duty review was not supported by substantial evidence.
A CIT judge, however, agreed with Commerce that Zhongce had failed to exhaust its administrative remedies before filing for an injunction against the agency.
In another government-related case, a Florida tire retailer was sentenced to a year and a day in prison after pleading guilty to excise tax fraud.
Nestor Bastidas conspired to falsify bills of sale on tires, saying they were exported to the Dominican Republic when they really were sold in the U.S., according to the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. district attorney for the Southern District of Florida. Two co-conspirators also pleaded guilty.
In non-government cases, a long-running trade dress infringement case involving Toyo Tire & Rubber Co. and several Doublestar companies from China saw action in 2018.
Toyo filed suit in 2015, claiming the Doublestar companies infringed on the design of Toyo's Open Country M/T premium off-road light truck tire.
In April 2018, a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California partially granted Toyo's motion for summary judgment in the case.
Toyo then sought treble damages against Doublestar Dong Feng Tyre Co. Ltd. and Qingdao Doublestar Industrial Tire Co. Ltd. under the Lanham Act, which forbids trademark infringement, trademark dilution and false advertising.
The Doublestar companies in turn filed for partial summary judgment against Toyo on the treble damages issue, claiming that Toyo misrepresented the case to bolster its fraud claims. The judge agreed and granted the Doublestar motion in June.
Two high-profile cases involving Michelin North America Inc. were decided early in the year. In one, a jury in a district court in Weatherford, Texas, determined Michelin was blameless in a product liability lawsuit involving the failure of a BFGoodrich Rugged Trail T/A tire.
The plaintiff argued that the tire was defective, but Michelin proved in court that the tire had more than 80,000 miles of wear, as well as impact damage from a previous incident.
In the second, Michelin settled out of court with Tire-Mart Inc., d.b.a. Braven Off-Road, in a design patent lawsuit.
Michelin claimed St. Louis-based Tire Mart infringed on Michelin's Patent No. D530,266, the tread design for Michelin's BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain T/A KM2 tire.
In another product liability case, a Philadelphia jury in October returned an $11.7 million verdict against a Pennsylvania concrete products company in the matter of an allegedly defective Bridgestone L315 truck tire.
The woman who sued lost an arm in the accident, and her infant daughter a leg. Several other defendants, including Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations and Bridgestone Bandag, settled out of court without admitting liability.
The Ninth Texas Court of Appeals excused Bridgestone Americas Inc. and Ford Motor Co. from a product liability case in February.
Reversing a county circuit court, the appeals court said that because the accident in question occurred in Mexico, Texas courts have no jurisdiction.
Also in February, Monro Inc. agreed to pay $1.95 million to settle an eight-year-old class action suit related to unpaid wages and overtime for former technicians and assistant store managers.