ERJ staff report (TB)
Los Angeles, California - A California Superior Court jury has ordered tyre retailer American Tire Depot to pay $18 million to a Monrovia, Calif., family who lost their 11-year-old son in a rollover accident in 2006 involving a recalled Firestone Radial ATX on a Ford Explorer SUV, according to attorneys for the family.
The jury's verdict came despite evidence that American Tire Depot presented showing it did not install the tyre in question, according to the dealership's attorney, William DelHagen of the law firm Murchison & Cumming L.L.P.
The jury found Cerritos, Calif.-based American Tire Depot 85-percent negligent for installing the 12-year-old spare, the plaintiffs' attorneys said, despite the tyre's recall status and Bridgestone Americas' inspection guidelines against using tyres more than 10 years of age.
The Moreno family had settled separate suits with Ford Motor Co. and Bridgestone Americas prior to the start of this trial, DelHagen said.
The accident in question occurred May 24, 2006.
The victim, Willie Moreno, was the rear seat passenger in a Ford Explorer driven by his brother Ramon Moreno Jr. when the left rear tyre allegedly suffered a tread separation on California Highway 15 in Riverside County.
Willie Moreno, who was wearing his seatbelt, was partially ejected in the rollover crash and died of massive head injuries, according to the plaintiffs' attorneys, Corpus Christi, Texas-based Sico, White, Hoelscher & Braugh L.L.P.
â€œThis tragedy could have been easily prevented,â€ said attorney Roger Braugh, who represented the Moreno family. â€œThe facts of this case showed very clearly that American Tire Depot did not offer even a minimum of professional attention to tyre safety.â€
In January 2006, the plaintiffs' attorneys said, Ramon Moreno Sr. brought the family's 1994 Ford Explorer to an American Tire Depot store in Monrovia to replace two rear tyres. American Tire Depot, a Firestone dealer, advised Moreno to rotate the spare, a recalled Firestone Radial ATX, onto the vehicle and sold him one new tyre, the plaintiffs charged.
American Tire Depot maintains the personnel at the Monrovia store-the location has since closed-did not put the spare tyre on the vehicle, DelHagen said.
Both Moreno's original invoice and American Tire Depot's computer records presented in court shows Moreno was charged for a new tyre that was put on the vehicle, but they do not show any mounting/balancing charges associated with handling a second tyre, DelHagen said.
Even â€œno chargeâ€ work is always added to this record, he said, but there was none on this transaction.
â€œIn our opinion,â€ DelHagen said, â€œthe jury's sympathy overwhelmed their consideration of the facts presented.â€ He declined to comment on the possibility of an appeal.
The Moreno family, who had purchased the Explorer used in 2005, was unaware that the Firestone spare was 12 years old and part of the 2000 recall of Firestone Wilderness and Radial ATX P-metric light truck tyres, the plaintiffs' attorneys said.
At the time American Tire Depot allegedly installed the recalled tyre, both Ford and Firestone had issued warnings against using aged tyres.
The tyre techs at the dealership did not follow these guidelines, nor did they check to determine if the tyre was recalled, the plaintiffs charged.
DelHagen also said physical evidence on the Firestone tyre showed it had fewer wear miles than the Goodyear tyre American Tire Depot had installed and that it had no visible wear marks that would come from the spare carrier had it been there for 200,000 miles, as the plaintiff asserted.
Since the accident the Moreno family has advocated for better tyre safety laws, the plantiffs' attorneys said. Ramon Moreno Jr. testified before the California Assembly in 2009 to urge the legislature to pass a bill requiring tyre dealers to disclose tyre age.
â€œNow all we can hope for is that Willie's death can result in some positive change so that other families don't have to live through what we have lived through,â€ Ramon Moreno Jr. said.
From Tire Business (A Crain publication)