In what my be an unprecedented lawsuit, Scottsdale auto products liability lawyer David L. Kurtz filed a lawsuit against Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, its counsel, Graeme Hancock and his firm Fennemore Craig and other members of the company’s legal defense team. According to a report on Safetyresearch.net, the lawsuit, filed in Arizona State Superior Court, seeks punitive damages for “five years of delay and deception in a product liability action” involving Goodyear’s G159 tire. This was a tire developed for the urban delivery vehicle market, but sold to the recreational vehicle market, although the tires were not suited for that use at all.

In June 2003, the members of the Haeger family were traveling in their Spartan Gulf Stream Coach on Interstate 25 in New Mexico when the RV’s right front tire failed. The vehicle rolled over seriously injuring four of its occupants. Kurtz represented the Haeger family in their lawsuit against Goodyear, which alleged that the G159 was defective and prone to tread separations caused by prolonged heat buildup during highway use. Goodyear’s high-powered legal defense team stonewalled Kurtz, who had asked them for a variety of critical information including road tests, wheel tests, high speed testing and durability tests. Five years later, having been told by Goodyear that most of this data was unavailable, Kurtz settled the case.

 “Fraud and Deception”

The plot thickened after the Scalmo family in Florida got a jury award of $5.6 million. In that jury trial, information including heat and speed testing for the G159 came out – data that had not been available to Kurtz when he was working on the Haeger case. In May 2011, Kurtz filed a motion alleging discovery fraud. A U.S. District Court in Arizona found that Goodyear and its legal team had defrauded the court and allowed expert witnesses to give false testimony.

During the legal proceedings, the court ordered Goodyear to product heat rise durability tests it had performed on the tires in 1996. One of the company’s experts filed a declaration stating that Goodyear had disclosed and produced crown durability, bead durability and DOT endurance tests – the very data Goodyear had been claiming never existed. Kurtz alleges that what Goodyear orchestrated was a “well-coordinated conspiracy” to conceal the existence of those tests in Haeger and at least two other cases.

 Putting Profits and PR before People

Of course, these deceptions save Goodyear millions of dollars while they blamed tire failures on unsuspecting motor-home drivers. What’s more, using fraud and deception, the tire maker was able to secretly settle cases for a small fraction of what victims rightfully deserved. It is unfortunate that Goodyear put so much energy and effort into a cover-up and into paying its high-priced legal defense team. Why didn’t the company deploy its resources on producing a quality tire or to justly compensate these catastrophically injured victims whose lives have been turned upside down as the result of a defective product?

Why do companies like Goodyear take the more expensive route in such cases? As an auto product liability attorney who has been stonewalled by corporations more than a few times, I know that the answer is quite simple. They want to protect their brand image and their reputation. Recently, we saw another example of this tactic with Chrysler, which was ready to go up against government regulators when it refused to recall millions of Jeep SUVs that posed a fire hazard. But Chrysler officials met officials halfway and recalled a portion of the affected vehicles because they wanted to prevent this from becoming a public relations fiasco.

There are a few words beginning with the letter ‘p’ that come to mind when I think of what’s important to corporations like Goodyear and Chrysler. “Profits” is one of them. “Publicity” is another. But people? Unfortunately, the people who buy the products made by these corporations – the consumers – are nowhere in the picture.