OXFORD, Miss. (Feb. 20, 2009)—Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. settled a $189 million lawsuit against two trial lawyers on the day the suit was to go to trial.
What the company and defendants—trial lawyers Bruce Kaster and John B. Farese—agreed to is secret, as Judge Sharion Aycock of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi sealed the contents of the agreement. The action ended a lawsuit the tire maker brought in 2002 against the attorneys over an affidavit given by a former Cooper employee in a wrongful death complaint.
The original case involved a May 1998 road accident in eastern Arkansas that killed four people and left two others paraplegic. The lawsuit claimed a Cooper Trendsetter II tire on one of the vehicles was defective, while Cooper countered the tire was old and damaged.
In October 2001, former Cooper employee Cathy Barnett met with Farese. Barnett swore out and signed an affidavit saying her former employers ordered her and another employee to burn documents relating to the Arkansas wrongful death lawsuit. A judge in the Arkansas case ruled in May 2002 to allow evidence of document burning into the court record. The next day, Cooper settled with the plaintiffs.
Cooper sued Farese in December 2002, adding Kaster to the suit in August 2003. According to Cooper, Kaster and Farese were guilty of interference with Cooper's business contract, interference with business relations and civil conspiracy, all on account of the affidavit from Barnett.
Barnett had a clause in her separation agreement from Cooper, in which she agreed not to say anything concerning her former employer without its consent. The affidavit disseminated to the public violated this agreement, contained false and slanderous information, and caused the company substantial financial damage, the tire maker said.
When the case first went to trial in the Northern Mississippi court in August 2004, the original judge granted summary judgment to Kaster and Far-ese, ruling that Cooper's agreement with Barnett was in itself illegal. Cooper, however, got this ruling overturned in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
In a phone interview from his office in Ocala, Fla., Kaster said the public portion of the order includes a dismissal of all claims against him with prejudice, meaning that Cooper cannot bring those claims to court again. It also contains his agreement not to sue Cooper over its lawsuit.
“I had two good reasons for agreeing to this,” he said. “First, the past decisions of the Fifth Circuit court were contrary to the facts and the law. Second, after a decade of fighting, I wanted an opportunity to bury the hatchet.
“It was never a question of whether we were going to win,” Kaster said. “It was just a question of what was going to happen at the Fifth Circuit. And Cooper was glad to get out of this, let me tell you.”
Patricia J. Brown, Cooper vice president of global branding and communications, and Christian Abel, an attorney for Farese, said they are pleased with the settlement.
They declined to say more because of Aycock's order sealing the agreement's terms.