California Tire Dealer Held Liable for Installing Aged, Recalled Tire; Jury Awards $18 Million in Death of 11-Year-Old Boy

LOS ANGELES, March 19 / PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A California Superior Court jury awarded $18 million to a Monrovia family who lost their 11-year-old son in a rollover caused by the catastrophic failure of an aged, recalled Firestone Tire. The jury found that American Tire Depot was negligent for installing the 12-year-old spare despite its recall status and Firestone inspection guidelines against using tires more than 10 years of age.
On 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, CA. 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," said attorney Roger Baugh, who represented the Moreno family. "The facts of this case showed very clearly that American Tire Depot did not offer even a minimum of professional attention to tire safety."
In January 2006, Ramon Moreno, Sr. brought the family's 1994 Ford Explorer to American Tire Depot to replace two rear tires. ATD, a Firestone dealer, advised Mr. Moreno to rotate the spare tire, 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 12-year-old 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 Motor Company 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 did not follow these guidelines, nor did they check to determine if the tire was recalled.

At the 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 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," said attorney Jason Hoelscher, who also represented the Morenos. "When a company takes that position, a jury needs to evaluate that company's practices."
The jury found the tire dealer was 85 percent liable for Willie Moreno's death. The Moreno family had previously settled their case against Firestone.

In the wake of this tragedy, the Moreno family has advocated 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," said Ramon Moreno, Jr. who will continue to seek legislation.
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."
Roger Braugh and Jason Hoelscher are partners at Sico, White, Hoelscher & Braugh, L.L.P. based in Corpus Christi, Texas. The firm also has a Pasadena, California office.
SOURCE Sico, White, Hoelscher & Braugh, L.L.P.

 

 

 

 
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