PHOENIX—An Arizona federal judge, in a stinging 66-page order, has sanctioned Goodyear and two attorneys representing Goodyear, charging them with withholding documents in a product liability case.
Chief Justice Roslyn O. Silver of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona in a Nov. 8 ruling gave the plaintiff the go ahead to seek reimbursement of attorneys' fees from Goodyear and two attorneys. The case involves a 2003 motor home accident caused when a Goodyear tire failed, which seriously injured Leroy Haeger, his wife and two children.
"When a corporation and its counsel refuse to produce directly relevant information an opposing party is entitled to receive, they have abandoned these basic principles in favor of their own interests," Silver wrote in her ruling. She gave Haeger until Dec. 14 to file a motion for Goodyear and its attorneys, Graeme Hancock and Basil Musnuff, to reimburse him for attorneys' fees.
Silver also said Haeger was free to renegotiate his settlement agreement with Goodyear and pursue a separate action for fraud.
"Litigation is not a game," Silver wrote in the first paragraph of her ruling. "It is the time-honored method of seeking the truth, finding the truth, and doing justice.
The case began when Haeger, his wife, Donna, and their children, Barry and Suzanne, were on vacation in their Gulf Stream motor home, a vehicle equipped with Goodyear G159 tires. When a front tire on the vehicle failed, it veered off the highway and tipped over.
Haeger and his insurance company, Farmers Insurance Co., filed suit in 2005, claiming that G159 tires were defective if used on motor homes. They maintained the tires were designed only for use on pickup and delivery trucks.
Judge Silver said Goodyear and its attorneys spent years ignoring or objecting to the plaintiffs' requests to receive documents, even denying the existence of the results of high-speed testing of G159 tires.
"Goodyear and its attorneys developed a strategy, implemented in this case to great effect, to resist all legitimate discovery, withhold obviously (italics Silver's) responsive documents, allow plaintiffs and their experts to operate under erroneous facts, disclose small subsets of documents as late as possible, and otherwise turn this case based on a motor vehicle accident into an Arizona version of Jarndyce and Jarndyce," Silver wrote.
Jarndyce and Jarndyce was an endless court case created by Charles Dickens in his novel, Bleak House.
Silver made Hancock responsible for 20 percent of fees and costs, and Goodyear and Musnuff jointly responsible for the remaining 80 percent.
Spartan Motors Inc., manufacturer of the chassis on the Haegers' motor home, also requested repayment of attorneys' fees from Goodyear, but Silver denied the claim. She ruled the company didn't show specifically how it was harmed by Goodyear's withholding of documents, but added that Spartan probably could present a viable case of fraud against Goodyear in a separate lawsuit.
In a statement, Goodyear said it is disappointed in Silver's ruling and is reviewing its avenues of appeal. "Goodyear takes its discovery obligations very seriously," the company said.
Haeger's attorney praised the ruling.
"The actions of Judge Silver and her staff reflect an unwavering commitment to the pursuit of truth consistent with the highest standards of American jurisprudence," said David L. Kurtz.