ALBANY, N.Y.—A New York appeals court has overturned a $4 million judgment against Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co. involving an allegedly defective Uniroyal tire after 12 years of litigation.
Because Abdullah Abulhasan kept only a fragment of the tire that allegedly caused the accident that killed his wife, there was insufficient evidence the tire was defective or even manufactured by Uniroyal Goodrich, the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division, 3rd Judicial Department, ruled Jan. 20.
Michelin North America Inc., parent company of Uniroyal Goodrich, said the decision is an important precedent regarding spoliation of evidence in a product liability lawsuit. Attorneys for Abulhasan, however, said the appeals court made an unwarranted extension of spoliation sanctions in the case, and promised to appeal.
Abdullah and Dalila Abulhasan bought a used Volvo from Goldring Motors Inc. On July 21, 1990—the year before Michelin purchased Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co.—the Volvo crashed while Dalila Abulhasan was driving it, allegedly because of tire failure. Dalila Abulhasan went into a coma and died without regaining consciousness.
Abdullah Abulhasan sued Goldring and Uniroyal Goodrich in New York state district court, claiming product defect. Uniroyal Goodrich twice sought a summary judgment over the claim the tire wasn´t preserved, and Goldring also sought such court action because of spoliation of evidence.
District and the appellate courts denied the motion, and eventually the district court awarded damages to Abulhasan from Uniroyal Goodrich and Goldring.
In the new case, however, an appellate panel ruled unanimously for Uniroyal Goodrich, and also overturned the award against Goldring.
Writing for the court, Justice D. Bruce Crew III noted that experts for both sides disagreed on whether the existing evidence indicated that Uniroyal Goodrich made the tire.
But even if Uniroyal Goodrich probably made the tire, he said, Abulhasan failed to keep the whole tire and most of the photographs he took of it immediately after the accident. This was severely prejudicial against the tire maker, he ruled.