DONALDSONVILLE, Md. — Michelin North America Inc. must pay $32.4 million to a woman who was left a paraplegic because of a Labor Day 2002 auto accident, a Donaldsonville court has ruled.
The jury in the case reached its verdict Oct. 13, after eight days of deliberation. A Michelin spokeswoman said the company will appeal the decision.
Drusilla Boudreaux of Gonzales, La., was a passenger in a vehicle that skidded off Interstate 10 near her home, crashed and caught fire. The driver of the car recently had purchased new B.F. Goodrich tires, which Gonzales Tire and Rubber Co., the dealer, had placed on the front axle.
T. Carey Wicker III, the New Orleans attorney who represented Boudreaux, argued in court that Michelin had neglected to tell Gonzales Tire that, in cases when two new tires are purchased, they should always go on the rear axle. This neglect in turn caused the vehicle in the crash to hydroplane on the wet highway, he said.
Michelin had told Costco Wholesale Corp. to put two new tires only on the rear axles, Wicker told the court. But after Costco´s sales of Michelin-made tires dropped as a result, the tire maker did not give this advice to any other dealers, he claimed.
"This is an unbelievably tragic accident that had life-altering repercussions for the plaintiff and her family," she said. "Your heart just goes out to her." But she said Michelin advises its dealers that all tires on a car should be changed at the same time. Barring that, it tells them that two new tires should always go on the rear axle.
As for the accident, the spokeswoman said the BFG tires weren´t defective.
"Something made that car leave the road," she said. "It wasn´t the tires; they did not fail."
There was also nothing wrong with the car itself, according to the Michelin official, and a local weather forecaster testified at the trial that the roads that night weren´t wet enough to cause hydroplaning."
"We were confident the evidence showed that driver input was a factor in the accident," the spokeswoman said.
Wicker could not be reached for comment.