Our firm has known of the safety problems Cooper Tire has had with its tires for a long time. Recently we became aware of a Georgia Federal Court order which dealt with the bad conduct. The Georgia case involves an accident which occurred on I-95 in Camden County, Georgia. The Plaintiff was driving a Mercury Mountaineer when the left rear tire on the vehicle detreaded, resulting in the vehicle leaving the roadway and rolling over. One individual was killed and another was severely injured in the rollover accident.
The Federal Court judge entered an order denying Cooper Tire’s Motion for Summary Judgment on the Plaintiffs’ design defect and punitive damage claims. The Court stated that the Plaintiffs’ expert had identified three design defects in the subject tire: the lack of a full nylon cap ply; the lack of a belt edge gum strip or wedge; and inadequate aging resistance.
All of these designs are known countermeasures for the prevention of tire tread separation. The Plaintiffs alleged that Cooper’s competitors employed these reasonable alternative designs, and that Cooper’s internal documents showed that Cooper explored these alternatives, but rejected them so the company could make bigger profits.
In his order, the Federal Judge found that the Plaintiffs submitted evidence showing that “Cooper knew that the lack of a proper antioxidant package caused tread separation, and that this fact was publicized broadly.” The antioxidant package is the chemical mixture added to the rubber compound to prevent the tire from aging prematurely. The Court’s order also states that the Plaintiffs’ evidence “bolsters their theory that Cooper delayed implementing this design improvement because of cost considerations.” The Plaintiffs’ expert outlined several defects in the inner liner of the tire and offered various alternative designs which would have prevented the tread separation.
Ultimately, the Judge found that Plaintiffs “presented evidence upon which a reasonable jury could find that these design defects caused the tread belt separation and the accident and that there were feasible, safer alternatives that would have corrected the identified product deficiencies.” Interestingly, the Judge noted that “Cooper’s Australian website provides some evidence that the manufacturer was aware of the feasibility and importance of this alternative design.”
The Judge also denied Cooper’s Motion for Summary Judgment as to the Plaintiffs’ claim for punitive damages. The Plaintiffs contended that Cooper knew the defects caused tread belt separations, and refused to implement simple, relatively inexpensive solutions. The Judge found that the Plaintiffs “presented some evidence that Cooper knew of the four design defects in 1996.” The Judge went on to state that “there is some evidence that other tire manufacturers adopted these safety measures starting in the 1960s, that they were widely used in the 1980s, and that Cooper rejected the safer design alternatives.” Most importantly, the Court noted that the Plaintiffs presented evidence that “Cooper knew that each of these design features prevented tread separations, but that Cooper decided against such changes because they cut into Cooper’s profit margin.”
It’s significant that this Court order confirms what our tire experts have been saying for years about Cooper tires – that they are cheap and poorly made. Our firm currently has several cases involving death and serious injury due to tread separations of tires manufactured by Cooper Tire. We expect to prove the same type of conduct as that set out in the federal court order. A recent list we have seen indicates that Cooper Tire tread separations over the last decade have resulted in over 218 deaths. Hopefully orders such as the one entered by this Federal Court Judge will shed some light on Cooper’s bad conduct and force it to reassess its decisions in regard to the safety of its tires. If you need more information on the Cooper Tire problems, contact either JP Sawyer or Rick Morrison, lawyers in our firm, at 800-898-2034 or by email at JP.Sawyer@beasleyallen.com or Rick.Morrison@beasleyallen.com.
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