SALEM, Ore.—The Oregon Court of Appeals has reversed and remanded a lower court decision dismissing a wrongful death suit brought in 2014 against Les Schwab Tire Centers of Oregon Inc. and Toyo Tire Holdings of Americas Inc.
Scott and Jenna Wilcox were Air Force personnel who purchased Toyo tires from a Les Schwab store in 2004. In 2010, they were stationed in Afghanistan and the United Kingdom, driving the BMW they had brought with them from the U.S. still equipped with the tires purchased from Les Schwab.
On March 27, 2010, the Wilcoxes were driving near the Scottish border when their car started vibrating. Scott Wilcox examined the tires and replaced the rear passenger-side tire with a temporary spare. They drove on, with Jenna Wilcox holding the replaced tire in her lap.
Shortly thereafter, the replaced tire exploded, severely injuring Jenna Wilcox. She died of her injuries April 1 or 2, according to the complaint Scott Wilcox filed in the Multnomah Country, Ore., Circuit Court on Sept. 17, 2014. (The complaint gives both dates.)
Scott Wilcox accused Toyo and Les Schwab of knowingly and negligently selling a defective tire. He sought economic damages of $10 million and non-economic damages of up to $500,000.
Les Schwab and Toyo moved for dismissal in the Multnomah County court, asserting that the suit was untimely under Oregon's three-year statute of limitations for bringing wrongful death suits. The court granted the motion.
In an Aug. 22, 2018 ruling, the appeals court reversed the Multnomah Country court.
Wilcox argued that his military service tolled (delayed) the end of the statute of limitations because of the provisions of the federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA).
Les Schwab and Toyo countered that Congress never intended the SCRA to reach that far. Allowing the SCRA to toll the statute of limitations would make it easy for any plaintiff to circumvent it simply by appointing a servicemember as the personal representative of an estate, they argued.
In ruling for Wilcox, the appeals court said the SCRA does not distinguish between actions brought by servicemembers as individuals or as representatives of estates.
"Furthermore, the purposes that Congress identified in the SCRA for its enactment are to provide for the temporary suspension of judicial proceedings that could affect the civil rights of servicemembers, thereby allowing them to devote their full efforts to the nation's defense," the court said.
James Tsai, general counsel for Toyo, declined comment because the litigation is ongoing.
So did Dale Thompson, chief marketing officer for Les Schwab, although he added that the company has nothing but sympathy for the Wilcox family.
"We recognize the tragic nature of the incident, and our hearts go out to this family," Thompson said. "We've made safety a core part of our culture, and over the course of more than 65 years have established a strong reputation of putting our customers first."