Appellate Court Dismisses Tire Rupture Case

George Stalker operated a truck repair business for over twenty years.  His work included repairing tires.  In March, 2001, Mr. Stalker discovered a flat tire on one of his flatbed trailers.   While inflating the tire, a “zipper rupture” occurred [1],  the tire exploded and Mr. Stalker was propelled across the room and died.  The tire had been manufactured in 1993 by Goodyear.  Stalker’s widow filed a products liability suit against Goodyear.   The judge dismissed the lawsuit and the appellate court now affirms.[2]

A strict products liability case (i.e., without having to show fault) can be shown by one of three ways:  (a) a mistake in the manufacturing process; (b) an improper design; or (c) a failure to provide adequate warnings regarding the use of the product.  Mrs. Stalker argued that factual issues existed as to design defect or failure to warn.  A product may be considered defectively designed is it is “unreasonably dangerous for its intended use; that is one whose utility does not outweigh the danger inherent in its introduction into the stream of commerce.”   Goodyear’s experts submitted proof that zipper ruptures were common through the tire industry and that such explosions can be minimized by proper inflation, inspection and safety procedures.  Safety procedures included using a “clip-on air chuck” so as to keep one outside of the tire’s trajectory.  The Court found that Goodyear met its burden of showing that the subject tire was not defective as designed.

Regarding the failure to warn claim, the Court noted that “a manufacturer has a duty to warn against latent dangers resulting from foreseeable uses of its products of which it knew or should have known.”  However, if the person who would benefit from the warning is already aware of the hazard, the manufacturer cannot be held liable for a failure to warn.  Mr. Stalker had warned his son and others working for him that a tire which was underinflated could rupture, and that one should stand on the side and use a clip-on air chuck when working on a tire.  Because Mr. Stalker was aware of the risk of a zipper rupture, his widow could not maintain a failure to warn claim against Goodyear.

Bottom Line:  Just because you have an explosion and an injury, you may not necessarily have a products liability case.  To avoid having a products case dismissed, you need an expert which can put in proof regarding: (a) a specific design defect; (b) a failure in the manufacturing process; or (c) inadequate warnings.

[1]  A zipper rupture occurs when there is a break in the sidewall of the tire between the beam and shoulder of the sidewall due to the tire being used for a period of time while underinflated.
[2] Betty Stalker v. Goodyear, 3rd Judicial Dept. No.: 505026 (March 12, 2009)

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