BELLEVILLE, Ill.—The negligence of two attorneys forced Goodyear and Goodyear Dunlop Tires North America Ltd. to settle a product liability case despite strong evidence in the tire makers' favor, Goodyear and Dunlop claim in a lawsuit.
Goodyear and Dunlop filed their complaint in St. Clair County, Ill., Circuit Court May 5 against Chicago law firm Perkins Coie L.L.P. and Perkins Coie attorneys Jeanne M. Cullen and Matthew J. Gehringer.
Cullen and Gehringer represented Goodyear and Dunlop in a product liability lawsuit filed by Michael and Darla Green, who claimed a Dunlop D402 tire, size MT90B16 74H, mounted on the rear of their 2003 Harley-Davidson Ultra Glide Classic motorcycle was defective.
On July 27, 2007, the Greens started from their home in Illinois on a trip to Yellowstone National Park, riding tandem on their motorcycle. The rear tire deflated suddenly in Lafayette County, Mo., causing the motorcycle to skid out of control and crash. Both Greens were injured.
The Greens filed a 10-count complaint against Goodyear in June 2008 for strict product liability, manufacturing and design defects, breach of implied warranty and loss of consortium, the Goodyear-Dunlop complaint stated.
In the complaint, the tire makers listed several reasons why they should have prevailed in a jury trial.
Among other things, the Greens' rear tire had only 2/32-inch of tread left; a friend traveling with the Greens on her own motorcycle warned them that she smelled burning rubber and that the tire looked low; both of the Greens weighed more than 260 pounds; and both of the Greens lacked protective clothing. Goodyear and Dunlop claimed that the Greens both wore plastic helmets that were clearly marked on the inside as being novelty items not intended for use as safety helmets.
“As a result of the foregoing facts and affirmative defenses, Goodyear had no liability in the Green litigation,” the complaint said.
However, Cullen and Gehringer mishandled the case from the beginning, Goodyear and Dunlop alleged.
To start with, the attorneys did not demand a jury trial, the tire makers said. Also, Cullen violated procedural and evidentiary rules in her cross-examination of Michael Green, they said.
The worst error, however, concerned Ian Willetts, senior manager of the Dunlop plant in Buffalo, N.Y., where the Greens' tire was made. Willetts, the tire makers said, would have provided invaluable information about manufacturing and quality assurance procedures at the Buffalo facility, and also would have confirmed that overload and underinflation caused the tire's failure.
According to the complaint, the attorneys deposed Willetts on Nov. 18-19, 2009. Willetts prepared errata—or correction—sheets for each day of deposition, notarized them and sent them to Cullen on Dec. 11, 2009.
Cullen prepared a new errata sheet incorporating all of Willetts' changes and sent them to the court reporter. However, the complaint alleges that she also improperly sent the earlier errata sheets Willetts prepared.
On Feb. 24, 2010, attorneys for the Greens submitted a motion to strike all the errata sheets, the complaint said. On March 9, Judge Patrick Murphy struck Willetts from Goodyear's witness list.
Goodyear, to protect the record for appeal, filed an Offer of Proof concerning Willetts' testimony. Judge Murphy, however, said he would be required to enter another order with additional findings to supplement his previous order.
Because the case was proceeding before Judge Murphy with no jury present, Goodyear had no choice but to settle with the Greens, the complaint said.
“But for the negligent actions of the defendants … Goodyear would not have settled with Darla and Mike Green, would have tried the matter to verdict, and would have received a defense verdict by way of trial, or would have settled the matter for an amount far less than the settlement amount,” the complaint alleged.
Goodyear and Dunlop seek damages in excess of $50,000 from Perkins Coie, Cullen and Gehringer. Thomas Q. Keefe Jr., Goodyear and Dunlop's attorney, said he expected the defendants' response within the next few weeks.