Our firm settled a lawsuit last month that had been filed against Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company and Monaco Coach Corporation. In this case, we represented Shirley Woods, Jon Woods and Stacey Woods, as well as the Estate of Billy Woods, deceased. The Woods family was returning to Alabama from a vacation at Disney World on I-75 in Georgia when the left front tire on their 2001 Monaco Diplomat LE detreaded. As a result, the RV left the roadway, crossed over the median and two lanes of on-coming traffic before slamming into an embankment in a rest area. Billy Woods, who was driving, was paralyzed in the accident. His wife Shirley, who was in the front passenger’s seat, suffered a severe back injury. Their daughter-in-law Stacey also suffered a severe back injury, and their son Jon suffered a severe hip injury. Miraculously, Jon and Stacy’s two small children weren’t injured at all.
The evidence was clear that Billy Woods, a retired aircraft mechanic, performed regular maintenance on the RV and its tires. In addition, at the time of the accident Mr. Woods was driving well within the posted speed limit and was operating his vehicle properly in every respect. The evidence was that once the Goodyear tire failed, Mr. Woods did everything possible to control the vehicle but was unable to do so.
Through intense discovery, we learned just how dangerous Goodyear’s G159 275/70R22.5 is when used on the big Class A RVs. When Goodyear first marketed the 275/70R22.5 for North America in 1996, the tire manufacturer did not have a tire designed for RVs. Instead, it sold the 275/70R22.5 to RV companies even though the tire was designed for a completely different use. The 275/70R22.5 was designed for metro and urban pickup and delivery trucks, such as those used by UPS. Those vehicles are used in urban settings and not for extended trips at highway speeds for several hours. The design features that made the 275/70R22.5 appropriate for metro-delivery trucks made it dangerous and prone to fail when used on Class A RVs driven at highway speeds. The tire’s thick tread and wide belt package caused it to operate at too high a temperature at continuous highway speeds and eventually the tire would fail. It was well known to Goodyear and all tire manufacturers that heat is the number one enemy for tires.
Through discovery, we learned that Goodyear’s own internal documents showed that it was well aware that the 275/70R22.5 could fail when operated at highway speeds on vehicles such as RVs. While I cannot discuss the documents’ contents in detail in this report because of Goodyear’s Confidentiality Order, I can say that by 1998, Goodyear began documenting failures and tread separations with the 275/70R22.5 when used on Class A RVs. At least by 1999, Goodyear knew this tire was not safe for use on Class A RVs. It is significant that the 275/70R22.5 failures were occurring primarily on Class A RVs and not with other applications such as the use on UPS delivery trucks. In 1999, Fleetwood, one of the largest RV makers, instituted a recall that mandated replacing the 275/70R22.5 with larger tires designed for highway use. Fleetwood replaced the 275/70R22.5 on its RVs to provide its users with a safer tire.
Despite Goodyear’s knowledge concerning the safety issues with the 275/70R22.5, it continued to sell the 275/70R22.5 to other RV manufacturers such as Monaco. The Woods’ RV was made by Monaco in 2001 and the very same tire that Fleetwood replaced on its RVs in 1999 was utilized on these Monaco RVs as original equipment.
Not surprisingly, Goodyear continued to receive reports of failures with the 275/70R22.5 when used on the big RVs. These failures led Goodyear and Monaco to issue a Product Changeover Program – or a silent recall – in 2002 removing the 275/70R22.5 from Monaco’s Class A Windsor. Tragically, neither Monaco nor Goodyear mandated replacing the 275/70R22.5 on all Monaco RVs. Our clients’ RV, which by Monaco’s own admission was essentially the same size and weight as the Windsor, did not have the 275/70R22.5 replaced. It still had the undersized tires and the Woods family never knew that the tires were defective. The Goodyear tire failed and caused the Woods’ wreck over a year after Goodyear and Monaco had replaced the 275/70R22.5 tires on the Windsor RVs. From its outward appearance, the Goodyear tire looked to be in good shape at the time of the detread. The tire on the Woods’ RV that failed had less than 20,000 miles on it, had most of its original tread and was properly inflated.
This case points out graphically how defective products can cause serious injuries to people without any warning. The results of defects, such as the tire detread, are neither discoverable nor observable to the average person. The tragedy is that an accident like this one involving the Woods family can happen to anybody because of the defect. In fact, through the handling of the Woods case, we learned that over 25 lawsuits had been filed against Goodyear for injuries and deaths due to failures of 275/70R22.5 tires on RVs. At one time last year, there were at least seven cases pending against Goodyear because of failures with 275/70R22.5 on RVs. Including our case, Goodyear has settled three of the cases within the past few months. Nonetheless, Goodyear has yet to take responsibility for selling the 275/70R22.5, which was undersized and inadequate as an RV tire. A good number of these tires are still being used on RVs today. The question is not if another 275/70R22.5 will fail and cause an RV wreck, but when it will happen. Goodyear needs to take the proper steps to replace these tires on all RVs. Rick Morrison was the lead lawyer on the Woods case and did an outstanding job on discovery and trial preparation. Cole Portis and I also worked on this case. The settlement is confidential at the request of the defendants. It was good to represent a good family in this tragic case and be able to help them.
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