A state court jury in Arkansas last month returned a $1.2 million product liability verdict against Hankook Tire Co. Ltd. The jurors determined that the company was fully liable for a crash that severely injured a truck driver. Elmer Philpot, now 76, was driving a gravel truck in 2010 when the tread of his right front tire separated, causing a crash. Philpot suffered leg fractures and needed a hip replacement. It was contended that Hankook was negligent in its design, testing, construction and manufacture of the 22.5-inch tire, and that the company failed to inspect the tire or warn of its defects. The defect originated at the Hankook plant in South Korea.
This was in the largest verdict in the history of rural Conway County, Ark. The case involved a heated discovery dispute resulting in Hankook being sanctioned and having to pay $43,000. The trial judge found that Hankook obstructed discovery. The company’s own internal policies mandated that it keep documents related to product liability on file permanently, but many documents were destroyed.
During discovery, Hankook originally only turned over documents related to the same model that was on Philpot’s dump truck, and only at the plant where they were manufactured. This resulted in the $43,000 sanction. Hankook attempted to explain the delay claiming it was responding reasonably. It said the task was made more difficult because of translating documents from Korean into English. The trial judge didn’t buy that excuse, saying that Hankook’s “conduct in obstructing discovery has been egregious.”
In November 2013, the court granted Philpot’s motion to compel and ordered Hankook to produce documents related to all the tires that used the same inner liner compound or the same belt skim. There will likely be more litigation involving these 22.5-inch tires, which have been coming off around the country.
The Plaintiff is represented by Bruce Kaster and Skip Lynch at Kaster Lynch Farrar & Ball LLP; Jerry Kelly of The Kelly Law Firm PA; and Ben Caruth of Gordon, Caruth & Virden PLC. These lawyers did a very good job in developing and trying this case. The case is Elmer Philpot v. Hankook Tire Co. Ltd, et al. in the Circuit Court of Conway County.
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