Examples of Product Liability Cases – Wheels and Tires
Most Floridians jump in their cars each day and don’t think twice about the wheels and tires carrying them where they need to go. We expect our vehicle’s parts to work well and maintain their integrity as we drive. And we expect and trust that the manufacturers who develop and sell vehicle parts do so with integrity and with driver safety in mind.
So, when a wheel or tire fails to meet those standards and that failure leads to a personal injury, you will want your product liability lawyer to be familiar with the current state of the law for these matters. That includes, for example, commercial vehicles meeting Federal safety standards related to the tires being used.
In this article, we look at a few wheel and tire product liability cases to demonstrate how the Florida courts view this type of personal injury case.
Examples of Wheel and Tire Product Liability Cases in Florida
Product Liability Involving Personal Injury and a Tire Blowout, Where the Side Wall Meets the Tread
Gencorp, Inc. v. Wolfe 481 So.2d 109 (Fla. 1st Dist. Ct. Dec 1985)
After buying two truck tires from Gencorp for his tractor-trailer, Joseph Wolfe drove his truck from Pensacola to Texas, then back from Texas to Miami. Nine days and approximately 2,500 miles later while driving north from Miami, Joseph’s right front tire blew out. He lost control of his vehicle and ran off the road.
Joseph and the tow truck driver both saw the blowout on the tire where the sidewall meets the tread. The morning after the truck was towed and stored for the night, the blown-out tire was missing from the truck.
A large search was conducted, and Joseph eventually found the tire with the same serial number. He had the tire evaluated by an expert tire analyst. Shortly thereafter, Joseph filed a suit against Gencorp during which the tire expert testified that the tire blew out due to a manufacturer’s defect with no evidence of improper care. The challenge Joseph faced, however, was that the serial number on his tire was not unique and was potentially used on hundreds of other tires.
Despite the ambiguity of the tire and serial number, the court ruled a verdict in Joseph’s favor.
The trial court allowed the evidence and cited that ‘when a product malfunctions during normal operation, a legal inference of product defectiveness arises.’ However, Gencorp contended that the court made an error by not striking the expert testimony and tire from the record.
In this case, the trial court made two errors.
First, it allowed the tire into evidence without definitive proof that the tire in evidence was the tire involved in the accident. Second, the trial court refused to instruct the jury to deduct the value of all collateral source benefits that Joseph received from its verdict.
This second error is pursuant to Section 627.7372 of the Florida Statute specific to personal injury. The court didn’t apply the statute to Joseph’s case because it does not speak specifically to product liability. However, Joseph’s complaint clearly showed that he sought damages for personal injury, so the statute should have been considered. It should have deducted the benefits he received from his wife’s health insurance policy.
As a result of both errors, the original judgment was reversed and Joseph’s product liability and personal injury case against Gencorp was remanded for a new trial.
Product Liability Involving Wrongful Death and a Tire Explosion During Mounting
Scheman-Gonzalez v. Saver Mfg. Co. 816 So.2d 1153 (Fla. 4th Dist. Ct. April 2002)
David Rodriguez was a car mechanic who died while attempting to fit a 16-inch Michelin tire onto a 16.5-inch Saber-Titan wheel. A wrongful death suit was filed against Titan and Michelin. The suit alleged that Titan, the wheel’s manufacturer, was negligent because the design of their 16.5-inch wheel accepted a 16-inch tire, even though the installation of that size tire on that wheel would cause the tire to explode. The suit also alleged that this danger was not known by David but either was known or should have been known by Titan.
The court discovered that David was not directly responsible for changing tires. However, they also discovered that he had been taught by his co-worker how to change tires and had performed this job in the past.
Titan brought in a private investigator to inspect the wheel involved in the accident. The investigator was clearly able to read the markings on the tire, including the tire size of 16.5-inches. He was also able to clearly read the warning on the sidewall of the tire that stated, “mount only on approved 16-inch rims.”
Other experts were brought in to inspect the tires and wheels involved in the accident. One expert concluded that the wheel’s rim was defective and that the size markings on the tire and wheel were inadequate in warning David of the danger of the installation.
Despite the conclusion of some inspectors that Titan was at fault, the court entered their judgment against David. They found that because Titan manufactured a product that, as a component part, was not inherently dangerous, the company did not owe a duty to warn end-users of the danger of the assembly that harmed David. The court also found no evidence that the accident was caused by a lack of warning about the danger of installing that tire on that wheel.
The appellee disagreed, submitting 15 arguments to the court to demonstrate that Titan was, in fact, negligent and that David was, at most, comparatively negligent. One argument was made that a manufacturer has a duty to warn where its product is inherently dangerous, and that warning should contain wording describing that possible injuries could be fatal.
Ultimately, the court considered these issues favoring David and reversed, remanding for further proceedings.
Product Liability Involving Wrongful Death and Oversized Tires
Brito v. County of Palm Beach 753 So.2d 109 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1998)
Sandy Brito was killed after being ejected from his car. He swerved off the road to avoid hitting a stopped car in front of him, lost control of the vehicle, and hit a pole, suffering fatal injuries.
At the time of the accident, Sandy was not wearing his seatbelt. Prior to the accident, he had installed oversized tires on his car, a 1998 Jeep Wrangler.
Sandy’s father, Juan Brito, filed a wrongful death products liability claim against American Eagle Wheel (AEW), claiming the tire manufacturer failed in its duty to warn Sandy that it was dangerous to install the oversized tires on his deep. The court originally ordered a summary final judgment in favor of AEW, ruling that Sandy’s failure to wear his seatbelt caused his injuries.
Juan appealed, claiming that the oversized tires caused the car to overturn, which led to his son’s fatal injuries. He claimed the court was wrong to grant partial summary judgment on the manufacturer’s seatbelt defense and wrong to exclude statements from Juan’s engineering expert who reviewed Sandy’s tires.
The court originally found that AEW did provide its distributor, Super Shops, with adequate warning based upon the product label warnings. In his appeal, Juan argued that while tires and wheels are not inherently dangerous products, AEW has a duty to warn customers of the dangers that can occur if their products are used or installed improperly and that AEW’s warning that tires should only be installed by a professional was not adequate.
The court, however, found that the dangers of installing the oversized wheels on the Jeep were open and obvious. According to Florida law, manufacturers are not required to warn customers of obvious dangers.
Despite Juan’s appeal of AEW’s seatbelt defense, the appeals court found Sandy to be comparatively negligent for his injuries for failing to wear a seatbelt. The appeal court also agreed with AEW that Juan’s expert had based his findings on opinion and excluded his testimony.
Ultimately, the order was affirmed in part and reserved in part.
Call Alan Sackrin, Civil Trial Attorney, For a Free Case Evaluation
As a Board-Certified Civil Trial Expert for over 38 years, Alan Sackrin understands and has extensive experience dealing with product liability cases. He offers a free initial consultation (over the phone or in-person) to answer your questions. When you’re ready to speak with a civil trial expert about your product liability case, call Alan at 945-458-8655.
Related: Tire Blowout Cases in Florida: Proving Driver Negligence