Product Liability Case Study: Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.
Every year, defective or dangerous products kill or seriously injure hundreds of people in Florida. Product liability is an area of law that deals with these defective products and provides victims with the right to recover compensation for the harm done to them.
Product liability attorney Alan D. Sackrin has been litigating defective product cases for nearly four decades. One of his first cases dealt with a notorious defective product that had resulted in numerous deaths and injuries across the country
Goodyear’s K-Type Rims
In the early 1980s, a number of national tire companies were under scrutiny for numerous deaths and countless injuries related to the explosive disassembly of their tire rims.
Alan litigated one of these cases on behalf of a man who was killed as a result of a tire rim explosion. The manufacturer was Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.
“It was a very sad case, really,” Alan says. “He was a husband and the father of three children, who were all minors.”
The rims, known as K-types, were multi-piece wheel rims for use on tires for large, heavy trucks like 18-wheelers. A common scenario would be for a service manager to instruct a mechanic to perform a flat tire repair on a truck tire with a k-type rim. After dismounting the tire and repairing the tube, the mechanic would reassemble the rim, inflate the tire and then re-mount the tire onto the truck.
“The rims would appear to be on correctly and everything would seem to be just fine,” Alan says. “But under all that pressure and the weight of the truck, they weren’t really fine at all.”
The explosions were catastrophic in many cases.
“The side ring would go off like a bomb,” Alan says. “A lot of guys would be standing right next to them, and if the pieces weren’t on right or if they were just a little bit corroded, the guy would be grievously injured or even killed.”
A National Problem
The cases had garnered quite a bit of attention nationally.
“This was all over the news at the time,” Alan says. “There had been numerous exposés. The tire companies were fighting these cases all across the country.”
In most cases, these wheel rims were about 15-20 years old.
“At that time there was a statute that said you couldn’t sue on any product over 12 years old,” Alan says. “For about two years, that statute was ruled unconstitutional, so I had to fit the case into that window.”
Thanks to all the national attention, Goodyear assigned not only a local attorney to the case but one of their own national lawyers, as well.
“There were hundreds of these cases across the country,” Alan says. “Literally, hundreds. And from a variety of manufacturers. It was Goodyear in our case, but Firestone had similar problems.”
Although he could have involved the case in a class-action type of suit, referred to then as “multi-district litigation,” Alan believed he had a stronger case in local courts.
“I kept it in state court by suing Goodyear and the owner of the truck,” he says. “The truck owner was a Florida resident, so I kept it here.”
When it came time to litigate, Alan says the attorneys for Goodyear took their defense in a direction he fully expected.
“We were dealing with something that was obviously dangerous, so they were always trying to blame the users or the owners for not knowing how to install the rims properly,” he says. “Meanwhile, Goodyear had its own internal film titled, ‘You May Not Get a Second Chance,’ which showed them in their own shops inflating these things in cages.”
The case did not go to a jury or a judge for disposition. Instead, Goodyear agreed to a structured settlement of $1.8 million to the family.
“It was a lot more over time,” Alan says. “There were four beneficiaries, and they were all entitled to pain and suffering for the loss of their husband and father.”
Product Liability Law in Florida
Product liability cases like Goodyear’s defective K-type wheel rims aren’t unique. Whether the defective product results in property damage, personal injury, or death, product manufacturers must pay the price for their dangerous or defective products. The standard is clear: Florida law requires a product to meet the ordinary expectations of the consumer when that product is used as intended for its intended purpose.
There isn’t an open-ended timeframe for you to file a lawsuit, however. You typically have four years to file a product liability lawsuit, from the time the incident occurred. Florida law also protects the manufacturers in certain cases: if a product’s lifespan is 10 years or less, you can no longer file a liability lawsuit if the product is more than 12 years old.
Three Types of Product Liability Claims
In Florida, people who believe they are a victim of a defective or dangerous product can file a product liability lawsuit for three types of claims.
- Defective Design. In this type of case, the plaintiff alleges that the product is “unreasonably dangerous,” and inherently defective. To win this type of case, the plaintiff must prove that the entire line of products is inherently dangerous and not the result of a manufacturing error or inadequate warning labels or instructions.
- Defective Manufacture. In contrast to defective design, a plaintiff alleging defective manufacture must prove that the product was constructed poorly or in error and performs differently from other products of the same line. To prevail in a defective manufacture case, the plaintiff must also prove that the damages were directly caused by the manufacturing defect.
- Failure to Warn. If a product’s warning label (or the lack of one) doesn’t address a particular danger that may easily be overlooked by the user, a failure to warn lawsuit may be in order. To win this type of case, the injury or damage must be directly related to the failure of the product manufacturer to adequately warn or instruct.
What Should You Do Now?
If you believe you’re the victim of a defective or dangerous product, you may be entitled to compensation for pain and suffering, and you may even be entitled to punitive damages.
You May Be Interested In Seeing A Sample of Alan’s Injury Verdicts and Settlements.
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