I have never believed that corporate wrongdoing should be protected by confidentiality agreements or by sealing court files. The public should be made aware of things such as products that are defective and hazardous. Unfortunately, corporate defendants work hard to keep secret these known hazards and are successful much of the time. This is because victims are usually at their mercy and have to accept confidentiality when corporate defendants make confidentiality a condition of settlement. Recently, a federal judge ruled that in a case settled under strict confidentiality Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. can’t stop an accident victim’s lawyer from telling about how a witness testified that the company knew its tires could fail when used on motor homes.
The witness, Kim Cox, who is a Goodyear claims administrator, testified under oath that the company ”was aware” that its G159 tires ”did not perform properly.” Guy Ricciardulli, the lawyer who represented the plaintiff in the settled case, has given an affidavit setting out the testimony by Cox. This affidavit was filed in another pending case against Goodyear. The tire manufacturer had abruptly stopped the 2003 deposition of Cox and agreed immediately to a confidential settlement of claims that tire failure had caused the accident at issue in the case. Ricciardulli disclosed Cox’s testimony to another lawyer for use in that lawyer’s case for a client. Goodyear then asked a federal judge to sanction Ricciardulli for revealing confidential information and data. Goodyear sought to prevent other accident victims’ lawyers from questioning Ricciardulli and Cox about the alleged admission. Fortunately, Goodyear’s attempt was unsuccessful. U.S. District Judge Rudi M. Brewster, who made this important ruling, wrote in his March 18th order:
Goodyear has not identified any public policy that supports the perpetuation of secrecy of a Goodyear employee’s testimony concerning a possibly defective tire in certain usages. It would be repugnant to the public policy of protecting the health and safety of the public.
The testimony will help our firm in a pending lawsuit against Goodyear, the largest U.S. tire maker, involving its G159 model tire. It’s most significant that a Goodyear representative admits there’s a problem with this specific tire. The G159 tires, which are designed for much smaller vehicles than motor homes and are to be used primary in an urban setting, are prone to failing when used on larger recreational vehicles. We will be able to prove in our case that there have been a number of similar accidents caused by the very same defective tire.
Interestingly, Cox’s aborted deposition isn’t available because the transcript wasn’t finished and Goodyear destroyed the court reporter’s notes from the deposition. The documents were unsealed by the judge’s decision. The court order removes from confidentiality provisions any evidence of Cox’s ”deposition testimony regarding the fitness or safety of the G159 tire for use on motor homes.” The ruling will allow us to call Cox as a witness in our case to discuss his previous testimony to counter Goodyear denials of tire defects. We will also call Ricciardulli as a witness if Cox disputes the lawyer’s recollections. The court order will allow us to question Goodyear about its stonewalling testimony relating to the tires that the manufacturer knew were defective. Our case is set for trial this month in an Alabama state court.
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