ERJ staff report (TB)
By Miles Moore, Senior Washington Reporter
Atlanta, Georgia -- Michelin North America Inc. has settled a lawsuit involving an allegedly defective Uniroyal Laredo tyre for an undisclosed amount.
In entering into the settlement agreement April 2 with Johnny and Patricia Bates, Michelin said the settlement had nothing to do with the sanctions a federal court judge placed on the company and its attorneys last January for alleged bad faith conduct.
â€œIt's a reasonable agreement, and we believe it's in the best interest of both parties,â€ the tyre maker said. The parties were discussing a settlement long before the sanctions, according to the company.
The case was originally filed in November 2009. It involved the accident suffered by the Bateses on Christmas Day 2008, while Johnny Bates was driving his 2001 GMC Jimmy northbound on I-85 near Fairburn, Ga.
A Uniroyal Laredo tyre manufactured in 2000 at Michelin's Ardmore, Oklahoma, factory, and originally the vehicle's OE spare tyre, was mounted on the left rear of the vehicle. According to the lawsuit, the Laredo tyre came apart, causing the vehicle to roll over. Johnny Bates was rendered quadriplegic by the accident, and Patricia Bates, a passenger, was also seriously injured.
The lawsuit alleged the tyre was defective. â€œSuch inability to control the vehicle after a catastrophic tyre failure was foreseeable to the Michelin defendants,â€ it said. The Bateses asked for both compensatory and punitive damages in unspecified amounts.
In January 2010, attorneys for the Bateses requested documents that Michelin was reluctant to provide, claiming they contained confidential trade secrets. In April 2010, the tyre maker finally provided what Amy Totenberg, the judge for the case before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, called â€œa strikingly small number of documents.â€
In November 2010, the Bateses' attorneys filed a motion asking the court to compel Michelin to produce documents related to design and production tolerances, adjustment data and specific defects. Judge Totenberg ordered Michelin in January 2011 to give the attorneys nearly all the documents they requested.
Michelin lost a motion for reconsideration in April 2011 and in July produced adjustment data charts that the judge said were so redacted as to be indecipherable.
On Jan. 13, 2012, Judge Totenberg ruled Michelin had willfully withheld documents, engaging in a pattern of subterfuge against the plaintiffs. She ordered the tyre maker to submit unredacted copies of the requested documents and granted plaintiffs the right to file a petition of reimbursement of attorneys' fees related to the motion for sanctions.
She also granted the plaintiffs' motion to issue a finding that the Uniroyal tyre was â€œdefective and unreasonably dangerous,â€ but stopped short of imposing a further stipulation that the tyre failed because it was defective.
â€œUnfortunately, the case was plagued by Michelin's unrelenting and unrepentant discovery abuse,â€ said George Fryhofer of the Atlanta law firm of Butler, Wooten & Fryhofer L.L.P., which represented the Bateses.
â€œOur clients were satisfied by the end result, which makes their long fight for justice worthwhile,â€ Fryhofer said in a press release.
From Tire Business (A Crain publication)