Suit Over Deadly 2007 Crash Targets Tire Firm, Retailer - Tire Review Magazine

Suit Over Deadly 2007 Crash Targets Tire Firm, Retailer

(Arkansas Democrat Gazette) Nearly nine years after the highly publicized recall of certain Firestone tires that were prone to unraveling at high speeds, causing deadly accidents, a new lawsuit targets a lurking danger – the forgotten spare tire.

"It is just now becoming apparent that these latent killers are out there," Little Rock attorney Sandy McMath said Friday.

McMath fled a lawsuit on June 17 in Faulkner County Circuit Court on behalf of a Yell County couple, Tami and John Tanner, whose only child, 20-year-old Pamela Michelle Tanner, was killed on Sept. 15, 2007, when the tread suddenly peeled off the right rear tire of her Ford Explorer, in which she was riding.

At the wheel of the 1997 sport utility vehicle was Pamela Tanner’s boyfriend, fellow Conway resident Eric Gill, 34, who also died after the vehicle lurched and flipped across the highway median, ejecting both occupants into the eastbound lane, in front of oncoming traffic.

A horrified 59-year-old Gurdon woman who had been driving east at about 8:30 p.m. later told state police that she saw the Explorer’s headlights flipping through the darkness in front of her and braked, but couldn’t stop before running over Tanner.

The second-year nursing student at the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton, who had been working her way through college as a cashier at an Exxon-Mobil station and a waitress at Denny’s, died of "severe head and chest injuries," according to her death certificate.

In a letter that McMath wrote to Firestone in 2008, he said the tire that caused the accident had been installed on the vehicle just two months earlier, after it sat idle for years, "hidden away in the spare well waiting, like a ticking time bomb, to be placed in service."

He said the full-size spare was a Firestone Wilderness AT P235/75R15, one of a handful of models manufactured before 1998 that were subject to four separate recalls between 2000 and 2006 that came "at the order of, or on the threat of an order of, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration."

The tire wouldn’t have remained on the vehicle as a spare if Bridgestone-Firestone recalls had emphasized the need to replace spare tires as well as the four "ground tires," McMath said.

The highway safety agency said in March 2001 that according to Bridgestone, Wilderness tread separations had led to 74 deaths and 350 serious injuries. Six months later, the agency said its own records showed 192 deaths and more than 500 injuries as a result of the separations.

The lawsuit asserts that the tire company, which fielded hundreds of lawsuits over the tire defects, "negligently failed to clarify to their own Bridgestone-Firestone dealers and service personnel and to the other dealers and service personnel and to owners that … all five (5) tires must be replaced, not just ‘the four on the ground.’"

That failure, the lawsuit asserts, left tire dealers and service personnel "uncertain as to whether the spare tire should be replaced or indeed whether it was covered at all by the recall," and led some customers to erroneously believe that all five tires had been replaced on vehicles brought in, in response to the recall.

"In addition," McMath wrote, "the defendants by their silence on the matter failed to correct the popular misconception held by many owners and service personnel that an unused spare tire does not experience the same structural deterioration as those ‘on the ground’ and remains in mint serviceable condition when, in fact, the spare tire often undergoes a more sustained deterioration."

McMath said the safe life of a tire is roughly six years, even if it’s an unused spare.

"Being locked up in the wheel well does not make it a fresh new tire," McMath said Friday. "A tire is like a good horse – it has to be ridden. … Any good mechanic should tell you there should not be a ‘spare.’ … The spare should be included in routine tire rotations."

McMath said he didn’t know who installed the spare on Tanner’s Explorer on July 28, 2007. But strangely enough, neither any obvious deterioration nor the fact that it was a notoriously dangerous recall was noticed during a professional tire inspection just two hours before the accident.

The lawsuit says that between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. that day, Pamela Tanner had the Explorer’s tires inspected at a Wal-Mart tire service center on U.S. 65 in Conway. Employees there replaced the Explorer’s two front tires, but left the two rear tires alone.

As the largest tire retailer in the world and a company that "holds itself out as an expert in tire service," Wal-Mart was also negligent in failing to detect the imminent danger, McMath alleges.

While the lawsuit seeks both compensatory and punitive damages against Bridgestone Corp., which merged with Firestone, it seeks only compensatory damages against Wal-Mart. McMath said that’s because he believes Wal-Mart’s oversight was unintentional, unlike Firestone’s.

A Wal-Mart spokesman reached late Friday afternoon was unable to comment on the allegations until more information was available.

Don Darden, director of media relations for Bridgestone Americas in Nashville, Tenn., said Friday that because the company hadn’t yet been served with the lawsuit, "we cannot comment."

However, he e-mailed a copy of a news release dated July 21, 2006, in which the company issued a "re-notification" to try to recover recalled tires.

Citing earlier recall efforts, the bulletin referred to a "recovery rate that exceeded 95% of the tires anticipated to be in service at the time." It touted a new effort "to try to recover the small percentage of tires that may still remain in the marketplace," noting that of 6.5 million tires estimated to be on the road when the recall process began, "over 6.3 million were recovered."

The highway safety agency also issued a news release that day, urging consumers to replace all the affected tires. The bulletin noted, "The vehicles most likely to still have the recalled tires are those that are known to have had four tires replaced in the 2000 and 2001 campaigns but may still have the original spare. Consumers are urged to have all tires checked, including the spare, to make sure the recalled tires have been replaced."

"NHTSA also recommends that all service managers and technicians inspect customers’ tires, especially on 2001 and older sport utility vehicles," the bulletin said.

McMath noted that the Explorer in question, and its spare tire, had belonged over the years to several different people, including Tanner’s father and his brother. (Tire Review/Akron)

You May Also Like

Hankook Tire debuts Great Catch Rebate through July 7

Drivers who purchase at least four tires from eligible lines will qualify for savings of up to $120.


Hankook Tire has announced its first consumer promotion of the year, the Great Catch Rebate, running now through July 7. Twelve of Hankook’s EV, passenger, light truck and SUV tires headline this promotion. Drivers who purchase at least four tires from eligible lines will qualify for savings of up to $120.

GT Radial Formula Drift team welcomes 14-year-old driver

Minowa, who will be the newest and youngest driver in the Formula Drift 2024 pro season, will be debuting with Team Jerry Yang Racing.

TIA is now accepting nominations for open board of directors positions

The newly-elected board members will serve three-year terms with the potential for re-election to two additional terms.

Professional race car driver to compete on Bridgestone Potenza RE-71RS tires

Tom O’Gorman will compete on Bridgestone Potenza RE-71RS tires in the World Racing League Grand Touring Over class during the 2024 season.

Kumho Tire becomes an Official Tire of Formula DRIFT

As part of the sponsorship, Kumho Tire will receive a significant footprint at each of the eight Formula DRIFT events in the 2024 series, including track signage and activation during race weekends.


Other Posts

Discount Tire acquires six Suburban Tire Auto Repair Centers

The six locations in the Chicago area will continue to operate under the Suburban Tire Auto Repair Centers brand name.

Sun Auto Tire & Service expands Texas store count

The company has acquired Carrollton Complete Automotive, which offers a range of automotive services.

Yokohama Rubber to supply its BluEarth-XT AE61 as OE on Toyota’s Yaris Cross

Yokohama Rubber said the BluEarth-XT AE61 is a summer tire developed specifically for use on crossover urban SUVs.

AACF launches anniversary fundraising initiative

Running through July 1, this campaign aims to raise $65,000 through 1,000 donations of $65 each.