Michelin North America Inc. has settled a defective tire lawsuit after being slapped with repeated sanctions for discovery misconduct during litigation, according to Tire Business. Michelin denies that the settlement, the amount of which was not disclosed, was due to the sanctions.
The lawsuit was filed in 2009 by a Georgia couple injured in an auto accident on Christmas Day 2008. The lawsuit alleged that a Uniroyal Laredo tire mounted on the couple’s 2001 GMC Jimmy separated and caused the SUV to roll over. The tire, which was originally sold with the vehicle as its spare tire, was manufactured at Michelin’s factory in Ardmore, Oklahoma. Both husband and wife were seriously injured in the rollover accident; the husband has left a quadriplegic as a result of his injuries.
In January 2012, after a protracted court battle during which Michelin repeatedly refused to produce documents despite court orders and a previous monetary sanction against the company, Judge Amy Totenberg of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia ruled that Michelin had acted willfully and in bad faith by engaging in an ongoing pattern of “extremely troubling” discovery abuse. The judge found that Michelin delayed and obstructed the discovery of documents in the case by refusing to produce documents requested during the proceedings. The judge also found that Michelin made misrepresentations to the court during a hearing that resulted in an error in a court order, and then failed to correct the misrepresentations.
The judge also found that Michelin acted in bad faith in efforts to gain an unfair advantage in the litigation. For example, while refusing to produce documents that were potentially relevant to the plaintiffs’ tire expert’s opinion about the cause of the accident, Michelin tried to exclude the expert’s testimony as unreliable. Without the trial expert’s testimony, the plaintiffs would likely lose their case.
To sanction Michelin for its bad conduct, the trial court ruled that the tire was defective and unreasonably dangerous. With this ruling, it would be no longer necessary for the plaintiffs to prove this element of their claim at trial.
Michelin’s behavior, in this case, is just one example of the extreme lengths to which some companies will go to avoid responsibility for the harm caused by their defective products. Fortunately, the legal system provides remedies like the sanctions ordered in this case, but too often, injured victims of defective products must engage in relentless legal battles for access to documents to which they are rightfully entitled.