An Iowa appeals court has upheld a $32.8 million verdict that had been returned in a tread separation lawsuit against Cooper Tire Company. A jury had found the tire separation to have been the cause of a 2007 van rollover that killed one person and injured five others. In preserving the award, the Iowa Court of Appeals rejected Cooper’s contention that the jury should not have heard evidence of tread separations in Cooper tires other than the specific tire model involved in the rollover.
On Sept. 17, 2007, a 1997 Plymouth Voyager van rolled over. The van’s tires were all replacement tires. The left rear and right front tires were model GTS 2846 tires manufactured by Cooper. The tread of the left rear Cooper tire separated, causing the vehicle to pull to the left. The driver attempted to compensate by steering sharply to the right, but he lost control and the van crossed the right lane, veered onto the right shoulder and rolled several times. The driver was uninjured, but one passenger was killed. The remaining passengers sustained varying degrees of injuries, one being paralyzed from the neck down.
It was proved at trial that the GTS 2846 was defectively designed and manufactured. The skim stock rubber used to coat the steel belts in the GTS 2846 was defective, making the tire prone to tread separation. The plaintiffs introduced Cooper records showing that the company had knowledge of the tread separation problem as early as 1996 when the GTS 2846 first went into production. But Cooper failed to mandate a change in skim stock until 2000. Unfortunately, the tire that failed in the van was manufactured in 2000 at a Texarkana, Ark. plant that was said to be slow in switching away from the problem skim stock rubber. The appeals court found that there was ample evidence that Cooper had engaged in willful and wanton conduct.
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