Rick Morrison and Greg Allen, lawyers in the Personal Injury/Products Liability Section at Beasley Allen, settled a case last month for six clients who received serious injuries in a highway crash. One of our clients was paralyzed from the waist down. The clients were returning from a family vacation in Riverside, Calif., and were only an hour away from their Tucson, Ariz., home when the left rear tire on their vehicle suffered a complete tread separation. This caused the vehicle to become uncontrollable and roll over. The lives of our clients were to be forever changed on that fateful day.
The tire involved was a 1999 Bridgestone Dueler HT 689. It was the vehicle’s full-size spare. The tire had been taken from the spare position and placed on the vehicle four days prior to the crash by Wal-Mart. A technician at Wal-Mart recommended that the family utilize the full-size spare during a routine tire service, assuring our clients that the tire was safe to be used on their vehicle. Clearly, it was not. When Wal-Mart placed the tire on the vehicle, it was 10 years old. The tire failed due to its age.
Wal-Mart, in reckless disregard for safety, placed the 10-year-old tire on our clients’ vehicle and failed to warn of the hazards of operating a vehicle with a tire that was beyond its maximum life span. Wal-Mart was fully aware of the dangers of installing old tires on vehicles and had been several years prior to placing this tire into use on our clients’ vehicle. In fact, in 2006, Bridgestone, the manufacturer of the tire, released a “service bulletin” to Wal-Mart, warning that tires more than 10 years old, including tires used as a spare, should not be placed on vehicles, regardless of use or appearance.
Further, Wal-Mart was also aware that most tire makers warn against installing tires on vehicles that are 10 years old, regardless of use or appearance. Even more troubling is Wal-Mart’s knowledge that almost all automobile manufacturers warn against installing tires that are six years old on vehicles. Remarkably, Wal-Mart’s policy is that they will place a tire on a vehicle regardless of its age. A tire can be 10, 15 or even 20 years old and Wal-Mart will not only install the tire on a vehicle despite its knowledge of tire and car manufacturers’ warnings, but won’t inform customers that the tire is beyond the manufacturer’s service life.
While the tire industry, and tire service centers like Wal-Mart, have been aware of the safety issues presented by old tires, very few consumers are so aware. Most people believe if a tire has good tread depth and appearance, it’s safe. Simply put, that’s not the case. Because a tire’s rubber and/or components deteriorate over time, even if the tire is never used, after six years, the tire is dangerous.
Adding to the problem of consumer awareness concerning the safety issues caused by older or “aged” tires is the manner in which the tire makers “date” when a tire was made. The only way to determine the age of a tire is to decipher the “date code,” which is embedded on the sidewall of the tire. Most people have no idea how to do this. Tire service centers have an obligation to train their employees on how to determine the age of a tire. Many tire service centers do this. But unfortunately, Wal-Mart has adopted a policy to ignore car and tire manufacturers’ warnings. As a result, Wal-Mart will continue placing old tires on vehicles. This will result in its consumers being put at risk of serious injury or death.
The amount of the settlement in this case was confidential. David Karnas and Barry Bellovin, lawyers with Bellovin & Karnas, located in Tucson, Ariz., were our local counsel in the case. They, along with Greg and Rick, did an outstanding job in the case and were able to get a good result for our clients. If you need more information on this case or the aged tires problem, contact Rick Morrison at 800-898-2034 or by email Rick.Morrison@beasleyallen.com.
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