A California Superior Court jury has awarded $18 million to a Monrovia family who lost their 11-year-old son in an SUV rollover caused by the blowout of an aged, recalled Firestone Tire.
The jury found that Cerritos, Calif.-based American Tire Depot (ATD) was 85 percent negligent for installing a 12-year-old Firestone Radial ATX spare despite the fact that it had been recalled and Firestone inspection guidelines against using tires more than 10 years old.
Before the trial involving ATD, the Moreno family settled its suits against Ford Motor Co. and Bridgestone Americas.
All the litigation stemmed from an accident May 24, 2006. Willie Moreno was the rear seat passenger in a Ford Explorer driven by his brother, Ramon Moreno Jr., when the left rear tire experienced a catastrophic tread separation on California Highway 15 in Riverside County, Calif. Willie, who was wearing his seatbelt, was partially ejected in the rollover crash and died of massive head injuries.
“This tragedy could have been easily prevented,” attorney Roger Braugh, who represented the Moreno family, said in a prepared statement. “The facts of this case showed very clearly that American Tire Depot did not offer even a minimum of professional attention to tire safety.”
ATD had argued at trial that it didn’t install the recalled tire on the Moreno’s SUV.
In January 2006, Ramon Moreno Sr. brought the family’s 1994 Ford Explorer to ATD to replace two rear tires. ATD, a Firestone dealer, advised Moreno to rotate the spare, a recalled Firestone Radial ATX, onto the vehicle and sold him one new tire.
The Moreno family, who purchased the Explorer used in 2005, was unaware that the Firestone spare was 12 years old and part of the massive 2000 Firestone recall.
At the time ATD installed the recalled tire, both Ford and Firestone had issued warnings against using aged tires. Firestone’s October 2005 dealer Technical Bulletin advised against the use of tires older than 10 years, regardless of the tread depth.
Ford also issued a warning in 2005 advising against the use of tires older than six years. Ford’s warning stated “Tires degrade over time, even when they are not being used. . . You should replace the spare tire when you replace the other road tires due to the aging of the spare tire.”
The tire techs at ATD didn’t follow these guidelines, nor did they check to determine if the tire was recalled, the Moreno family’s attorney had argued at trial.
ATD acknowledged that it provided no training for its tire technicians on tire aging or how to read the tire date, which is embedded in the alphanumeric DOT code molded on the tire sidewall. The company also admitted that it lacked any policies or procedures to identify and capture recalled tires.
An ATD store manager testified that he would provide the same service again; a company representative claimed he would expect a technician to do “nothing” if presented with an aged, recalled tire.
“In my years as a trial attorney, I’ve never come across a company that said they didn’t do it, but if they did, they’d do it again,” attorney Jason Hoelscher, who also represented the Morenos, said in a prepared statement. “When a company takes that position, a jury needs to evaluate that company’s practices.”
Since the fatal accident, the Moreno family has been a vocal advocate for better tire safety laws. Ramon Moreno Jr., Willie’s brother, testified before the California Assembly in 2009, urging the Legislature to pass a bill requiring tire dealers to disclose tire age.
“Now 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,” Moreno, who will continue to seek legislation, said in a prepared statement.
Sean Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies, who has been advocating for expiration dates on tires and consumer disclosure on tire age, says that the verdict sends a strong message to the industry.
“Tire dealers and tire manufacturers must implement policies that ensure proper training to prevent aged and recalled tires from being installed on vehicles,” he said. “The failure to do so jeopardizes public safety.”
Attorney Gordon Johnson
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice
firstname.lastname@example.org :: 800-992-9447 :: Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.