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San Diego County, California

In this wrongful death case, the decedents suffered fatal injuries after the right rear tire of their Ford van incurred a catastrophic tread separation which caused the vehicle to roll over. The three surviving minor children filed suit against the defendant Ford dealership that attempted to repair the tire approximately 11 months prior to the subject rollover. The plaintiff claimed the defendant was negligent in failing to replace the damaged tire and in utilizing a patch-only technique that did not effectively repair the tire. The defendant contested both negligence and causation. The defendant claimed the patch adequately remedied the puncture in the tire and that the tread detachment which caused the rollover was not due to its negligence, but rather to a prior impact the tire had with an unknown object.

The deceased married couple, both 40 years old at the time, were traveling on the highway in their Ford E350 Sportsmobile van when the tread separated on their right rear tire, causing the van to leave the roadway and roll over. Evidence revealed that approximately 11 months earlier the plaintiffs had taken the van to the defendant dealership to repair a tire puncture.

The plaintiffs alleged the puncture to the tire was located in the shoulder area of the tire, outside of the proper repairable area. They claimed that the defendant dealership should have replaced the damaged tire, but instead utilized a patch-only repair. Moreover, the plaintiffs claimed that even had a patch been sufficient to repair the tire, the defendant performed the repair improperly, without a plug and without properly preparing the surface. The plaintiffs contended the defendant employed inadequate tire repair practices and employee training.

The defendant took the position that like all employees, the technician was extensively trained and highly qualified; thus, the technician who performed the tire repair was called to testify at trial. While questioning the witness, the plaintiffs drilled a hole in a tire in the same position as the puncture on the failed tire and inquired as to whether or not the witness believed that the tire should be repaired or discarded given the puncture. The technician first opined the tire was repairable, but then claimed it couldn’t be repaired, and finally stated he was confused and could not decipher as to whether or not it was repairable.

The defendant alleged the puncture to the tire on the plaintiffs’ van was small and that the patch was all that was required to repair the tire. The defendant additionally claimed its work on the Ford van had no causal relationship to the tire failure. The defendant introduced a theory to the jury that at some unknown time, the tire had a prior impact with an object such as a rock, a pothole, a curb or debris which damaged the internal components of the tire. It was the defendant’s claim that this impact occurred on the tire where the steel belt was severely disrupted, causing the frayed and broken internal wires.

The plaintiffs’ accident reconstruction expert presented evidence to the jury that in the particular area of the tire at issue in this case, the shoulder lugs had not detached around most of the tire and that the most outer edge of the tread piece was intact except where the tire spun counterclockwise across the roadway. He opined that it was the friction and roadway contact that caused these wires to fray where they were not protected, not a prior phantom impact.

The plaintiff additionally took the position that even assuming the possibility of a phantom impact to the tire, which was manufactured in ________, had a new tire been placed on the vehicle at the time of the August ________ repair, this new tire would have been considerably less likely to fail. The plaintiff introduced into evidence a ________ Michelin tire that was equipped with a nylon overlay. The plaintiff stated that in ________, Michelin began manufacturing all its tires with this overlay, recognizing it decreases tread belt separations. Thus, the plaintiff claimed that had the tire been replaced in August ________, it would have been replaced with one less likely to fail upon impact due to the nylon overlay.

The plaintiffs’ suit also named several other parties, including those who performed modifications to the Ford van, allegedly making it more susceptible to handling problems. These defendants settled before trial for $8.3 million. Prior to trial, the defendant dealership offered $________ to settle the claim, which increased to $________ just prior to trial. The plaintiffs alleged past and future lost wages from the deceased male’s carpentry work ranging from $________ to $________ and claimed past and future loss of home services totaling $________.

After a seven week trial and three days of deliberation, the jury awarded $________ million to the plaintiffs. After apportionment of fault to others and set-off for the prior settlements, the parties reached a settlement following the verdict which included payment of the defendant’s $________ policy limits. The minor plaintiffs’ recovery therefore totaled $________. As a condition of the settlement, the defendant agreed to immediately begin following industry guidelines regarding repair practices and to institute a program to better train its technicians on safe tire repair practices.

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