CARSON CITY, Nev. (July 7, 2010)—Goodyear said it is considering its options after the Nevada Supreme Court upheld a $32.2 wrongful death verdict against the company.
A jury before the Clark County (Nev.) Circuit Court granted the verdict in February 2007 in the case of 10 people were traveling from Nevada to Kansas in a 15-passenger Ford van in August 2004. A Goodyear Load Range E tire on the vehicle blew out on Interstate 70 near Moab, Utah, causing the vehicle to roll over.
Three people in the vehicle were killed, and the other seven were injured. One of the injured, a 14-year-old boy, was left in a permanent vegetative state.
During the circuit court trial, Judge Sally Loehrer refused to let Goodyear present evidence on its own behalf, ruling that the Akron-based tire maker used stalling and obstructionist tactics in court. Loehrer would only allow Goodyear to argue to the jury regarding the amount of compensatory damages and whether punitive damages should be allowed.
The jury granted $32.2 million in compensatory damages, but nothing for punitive damages. Ford Motor Co. and another plaintiff, Valley View Hitch & Truck Rental, settled with the plaintiffs before the case went to trial.
Goodyear appealed the decision, claiming its due process rights had been violated and that the jury award was excessive. Simultaneously, the plaintiffs appealed, claiming the circuit court erred in not granting punitive damages. In a majority decision written by Justice Mark Gibbons, the state Supreme Court denied both appeals.
“The district court did not abuse its discretionàsince the record was sufficient for the court to make its findings of willfulness,” Gibbons wrote.
Justice Kristina Pickering, however, dissented. Without an evidentiary hearing to resolve questions of whether Goodyear abused its discovery rights, denying the company the right to testify in its own behalf was a clear violation of its due process rights, she wrote.
In a statement, Goodyear said it was extremely disappointed in the Supreme Court verdict.
“At the original trial, the facts showed the tire's failure was due to significant road hazard damage that occurred before the accident,” the company said. “However, due to a procedural ruling having nothing to do with the tire, the trial court denied Goodyear the opportunity to present its defense.”