(Forbes) Three young friends had been out drinking on a summer night in 2000 when their speeding sports car blew a tire and careered off a rural Mississippi highway, killing one and injuring the other two.
The young men’s families – and a jury – blamed the accident on a faulty tire on the Chevrolet Camaro rather than excessive speed and the beer the men had been drinking.
The Mississippi Court of Appeals agreed this week and upheld a $2.1 million verdict against Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. and Big 10 Tire Co.
Travis Kirby, who was 20, was driving nearly 90 mph with two teenage friends on Mississippi Highway 27 between Crystal Springs and Hopewell when the vehicle "left the road, rolled, clipped a tree, continued to roll, hitting another tree, and then came to rest on its side," according to court records.
Kirby was killed. Authorities said his blood alcohol level was 0.25%, more than three times the legal limit for an adult driver. Riley Strickland, then 18, and Sidney Odom, who was 19, were both injured.
The lawsuit alleged there was a faulty back tire on the right side of the car. A Copiah County jury found for the families and the Appeals Court upheld the verdict Tuesday.
Mike Allred, an attorney for Odom, said his client was in a coma for two weeks, hospitalized even longer and will have lifelong difficulties because of his injuries.
"I’m very pleased that the Court of Appeals followed the law and did the right thing in affirming the judgment" because the tire failure "was the direct cause of the accident," Allred said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
The car, which Kirby bought used from a car dealership in Jackson, had the tires replaced by the previous owner. Those tires were bought at Big 10 in Hattiesburg, which "advertised, sold and labeled the tires as being high-performance when the truth is they were … rated for a passenger car" rather than a sports car like a Camaro, Allred said.
And, Allred said, the tire failed at 10,000 miles when it was rated for 50,000.
The car dealership that sold the vehicle settled out of court.
Goodyear and Big 10 blamed the accident on the excessive speed, Kirby’s intoxication and a puncture caused by hitting something in the road, court records said.
After a two-week trial in the fall 2006 – and testimony that the tire came apart because of a defect – the jury found the companies liable and awarded the $2.1 million verdict.
Among several issues raised on appeal was juror misconduct.
Goodyear claimed that the jury forewoman and one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys failed to disclose that the juror lost a child to a car accident and the attorney had been a pall-bearer at the funeral. The Appeals Court found, however, that Goodyear’s attorney knew about the situation and allowed the woman to remain on the jury.
The company also claimed a plaintiffs’ attorney made inflammatory statements, including during closing arguments: "It is not proper for Goodyear to tell you they can condemn people to death."
The Appeals Court said while the statement was inflammatory, the trial judge addressed it correctly by telling the jury to disregard it.
Goodyear had also asked the court to find that a culmination of errors during the trial lead to a "patently unjust verdict of over $2 million."
The Appeals Court disagreed.
Courtesy of TIRE REVIEW Magazine.