RAYMONDVILLE, Texas (Sept. 30, 2009)—A jury before the 197th Judicial District Court, Willacy County, Texas, has ordered Michelin North America Inc. to pay nearly $12 million in a case involving an accident that left six people dead and a boy permanently paralyzed.
The decision won't be appealed because of a pretrial agreement between the plaintiffs and defense.
The Guzman family was traveling in a 2002 Ford F-150 pickup truck near Matamoros, Mexico, on Dec. 31, 2006, when a BFGoodrich tire on the truck allegedly suffered a tread separation. The truck swerved into the path of a Chevrolet Suburban driven by Ariel Flores. Flores, his wife, their two sons and two other boys were killed, and Jesus Guzman, then 10 years old, was left paralyzed.
Attorneys for the plaintiff families argued the tire design was inherently defective; that a leak in the roof at Michelin's Tuscaloosa, Ala., manufacturing plant had damaged the equipment used to make the tire; and that Michelin had failed to warn potential buyers of the defect.
Attorneys for Michelin argued the tire on the Guzmans' truck met all applicable federal safety standards, and that Jesus Guzman Reyes, the father of Jesus Guzman, was speeding at the time of the accident. Jose Lopez, owner of the truck the Guzmans were driving, also had not properly cared for the truck or the tires, the company said.
Surviving relatives of the Flores family and their passengers received $6.5 million of the total damages in the Sept. 10 verdict. Jesus Guzman, however, received the largest single amount—$4 million—with his relatives receiving slightly less than $1.5 million in aggregate.
Michelin and the plaintiffs' attorneys entered into a confidential “High-Low” agreement before the jury verdict, according to Mikal Watts, an attorney representing the Flores family. This means the parties agreed to upper and lower limits for damages and waived their rights to appeal, he said.
A Michelin spokeswoman reiterated the company's position that the tire was not defective.