MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said it won´t appeal a judgment in an Alabama state court that awarded $4 million to a woman paralyzed in an auto accident blamed on a faulty tire.
The jury at the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Ala., awarded Carolyn Thorne $2 million in compensatory damages and $2 million in punitive damages April 20.
Thorne claimed Wal-Mart was to blame for her April 2004 accident because it failed to uncover problems with one of her tires during a routine maintenance check of her 2000 Ford Expedition sport-utility vehicle at a Wal-Mart tire center on Eastern Boulevard in Montgomery.
While Thorne was driving on Interstate 85 in Alabama on April 24, 2004, the left rear tire of her Expedition suffered a tread separation, causing the vehicle to roll over, the complaint states. The vehicle´s roof was crushed in the accident, it said.
The lawsuit also claimed the Expedition´s roof, restraint system and windows "were all defectively designed and manufactured, making the vehicle uncrashworthy."
The tire, a General Grabber AW M+S P275/60R17 110S, had been subject to a recall along with nearly 600,000 others in August 2002. Continental Tire North America Inc., the manufacturer, had discovered that the tires had lower-than-specified rubber gauge between the belt edges, which could lead to tread separation, according to a document from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Although the four tires mounted on Thorne´s Expedition were removed and replaced at the time of the recall, the spare tire-also a full-sized Grabber AW-was left in the car. It was mounted on the car when, a few days before the accident, Thorne took the vehicle to her local Wal-Mart for routine service.
The technicians at Wal-Mart should have noticed both that the tire had been recalled and that it had a suspicious sidewall bulge indicating tread separation, according to Greg Allen, the Montgomery attorney who represented Thorne.
"She did everything she was supposed to do," Allen said of Thorne. "She was wearing her seat belt, she wasn´t speeding, there wasn´t anything the defendants could point to say she was at fault."
"We disagree with the decision, but we respect it," a Wal-Mart spokesman said. He declined to discuss why the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer decided not to appeal, saying the company never discusses its legal strategies publicly.
Ford Motor Co. and Continental Tire settled with Thorne before the case went to trial. A Ford spokeswoman said the auto maker feels it is not at fault in the accident but found settling the case more economical than taking it to court.