On September 10, 2009, a jury in Willacy County, Texas, returned a verdict against Michelin and awarded $11,964,000 in damages. The case arose out of an incident when a Ford F-250 pickup suffered a partial left front tread belt detachment of a BF Goodrich All-Terrain TA Tire. The tire had been built in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The tread belt detachment caused the F-250 to travel into oncoming traffic causing a head-on collision with a Chevrolet Suburban. All six people in the Suburban were killed and a young passenger in the F-250 was left a paraplegic.
Several manufacturing defects, which allowed moisture and other contaminants into the tire components prior to manufacture, were alleged by the Plaintiffs. It appears the moisture came from a leaky roof in the Tuscaloosa plant. Testimony revealed that moisture created a blister of trapped air or steam that caused a defect in the finished tire and caused the tread to separate. Evidence at trial also showed that misplaced or poorly spliced belts affected the real world performance of the tire and in this case caused the tread to separate. The evidence also established very poor adhesion of the tire components demonstrated by bare fretted belt cords and degradation of the tire.
The evidence also showed that there was another design defect in the tire. There was an absence of a nylon cap ply, which helps reduce tread separation, in tires sold in the United States. Michelin provided this important component in its tires sold in the Europe. Although this evidence was very strong, the jury was not allowed to hear it for consideration. The jury only considered the manufacturing defects of this tire that was produced by Michelin at its Tuscaloosa plant. In other words, the design aspect wasn’t allowed in the case.
Michelin was also censured by the trial court for tampering with potential witnesses. Michelin sent letters to former employees of the plant instructing them not to talk to the lawyers representing the Plaintiffs. The lawyers representing the Plaintiffs in the case included Joseph Barrientos, John Sanger, Carlos Guerra, Michael Moore and Mikal Watts of the Watts Law Firm. They did an outstanding job for their clients.
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