There was a time, not that long ago, when Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. was on a crusade against attorneys who, themselves, were on a crusade against Cooper.
It was the era of the big recall-the Bridgestone/Firestone ATX and Wilderness tires-Ford Explorer disaster-and several ``smaller'' ones. Small meaning not as big as the BFS recall, but still amounting to thousands of tires and millions of dollars in losses for companies like Goodyear, Continental and, ultimately, Cooper.
Cooper's ex-chairman Tom Dattilo personally led the charge. He railed against trial lawyers, who he said were in it for the money, not for their clients. But business being business, in the end Cooper ran the numbers and accepted that recalling tires it felt weren't defective was better than the cost-and endless bad publicity-of fighting lawsuits.
In a much smaller case, in the scheme of things, Cooper still is displaying its penchant for standing by its beliefs.
At a trial in West Palm Beach, Fla., a jury decided Cooper should pay the widow of a passenger killed in an auto accident $1.5 million, later reduced to $750,000. A Cooper tire on a minivan blew out, and the vehicle overturned, killing her husband-who owned the minivan-and the driver.
Tires today aren't supposed to have such catastrophic failure. If the tire has a manufacturing defect, the company typically is, and should be, held accountable.
The jury ruled in the West Palm Beach case that the tire was defective. However, the evidence doesn't seem to point that way.
The jury itself reduced the award because it found the deceased owner of the vehicle negligent in maintaining the tire. Cooper argued that the tire was worn out, so much so the steel belts were showing.
How can a tire maker be blamed if a consumer doesn't take care of his tires? This is how: It was the widow of a field worker, mother of five children, deprived of her husband, versus the big, rich tire company. Cooper didn't stand a chance.
Sympathy, not justice, was served.