Haeger High-Stakes Poker

So, if you bluff your way out of handing over legitimate discovery after the case settles, do you really owe the plaintiff’s attorney $2.6 million? That’s the story Goodyear may be telling in its appeal of a November sanctions order in the Arizona G-159 tire tragedy otherwise known as Haeger v. Goodyear, now in its eighth year of litigation.

When we last left the case, attorney David L. Kurtz, who represented Leroy and Donna Haeger, sought damages from Goodyear on a separate but parallel track (see The Wages of Fraud). In June he filed a seven-count, 153-page lawsuit, in Arizona State Superior Court, seeking punitive damages via a jury trial for five years of delay and deception in the original product liability action. But the history of Goodyear, the G159, and the Haeger case is so long and sad, we’re going to start from the beginning.

In June 2003, Leroy and Donna Haeger, along with their passengers, Barry and Suzanne Haeger, were seriously injured when the right front G159 tire on their Spartan Gulf Stream Coach RV failed, causing a rollover. The G159 and a Class A motorhome had a lousy marriage; the tire design was prone to overheat on RVs that typically travel at greater than 65- mph speeds for extended periods. Goodyear knew that from its internal testing – but, loathe to miss a market-share – it promoted the match successfully in the 1990s and 2000. Eventually, though, the G159 and RVs produced numerous lawsuits when the tires failed, injuring and killing motorhome occupants. The Haegers were among them, and in 2005 they filed suit. The action was torturous, with more than 1,000 pleadings. Kurtz had asked for all internal testing regarding the G159, and Goodyear responded by employing a tactic that it had used – with varying degrees of success in other cases – turning over as little as possible, and swearing to the court that it had no more.  The Haegers settled in 2010.

In June 2010, Kurtz learned from The Safety Record Blog about a $5.7 million plaintiff’s verdict in another G159 case, Schalmo v Goodyear. At trial, the blog reported, Schalmo’s attorneys presented Goodyear documents including internal heat and speed testing and failure rate data showing that Goodyear knew the G159 was improperly approved for 75 mph continuous highway use. Kurtz began corresponding with Basil Musnuff, formerly of Roetzel & Andress and formerly Goodyear’s national coordinating counsel, to determine if Goodyear had withheld such tests in Haeger. Eventually, Musnuff conceded that Goodyear had, but wasn’t obligated to turn over any more than its NHTSA compliance test results.

Pattern of Fraud Brings Down Goodyear

Is it time for Goodyear to just give up the ghost on the G159 tire? Sure, they had a good run for a while, selling the tire to the motor home industry – even though the tire was designed for urban delivery vehicles and speed-rated for only 65 mile per hour continuous use. And when those tires failed on motor homes, causing rollovers, catastrophic injuries, deaths and lawsuits, Goodyear had a good run limiting the damage by keeping the damning documents from spreading from one litigant to another – or just keeping them to themselves. But their run seems to be about done, for the tire and the legal strategy.

The Chief Justice of the United States District Court for the District of Arizona, Roslyn O. Silver, has issued a lengthy and devastating sanctions order against Goodyear, and attorneys Graeme Hancock of Fennemore Craig PC and Basil Musnuff formerly of Roetzel & Andress, who represented the tiremaker against the product liability claims lodged by the Haeger family.

 Judge Silver’s order starts like this:

“Litigation is not a game. It is the time-honored method of seeking the truth, finding the truth, and doing justice. When a corporation and its counsel refuse to produce directly relevant information an opposing party is entitled to receive, they have abandoned these basic principles in favor of their own interests. The little voice in every attorney's conscience that murmurs turn over all material information was ignored.”

Michelin Rapped for "Bad Faith Conduct"

A federal judge in Atlanta has ordered to Michelin North American to pay attorneys’ fees and established that a Uniroyal Laredo Tire was “defective and unreasonably dangerous” as a sanction for nearly two years of discovery abuse.

“In sum, Michelin’s bad faith conduct caused serious prejudice to the integrity of the legal process and to Plaintiffs’ orderly, effective development and proof of their case,” U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg, of the Northern District of Georgia, wrote in her 61-page decision. “The pattern of abuse by Michelin is extremely troubling.”

Judge Totenberg’s patience was pushed past its limits in Bates v. Michelin North America, a tread separation case. In November 2009, Johnny and Patricia Bates of Evergreen, Alabama sued Michelin North America for negligence and strict liability in a tire-related rollover crash. On December 25, 2008, Johnny Bates was belted and at the wheel of his 2001 GMC Jimmy travelling northbound on I-85 in Fulton County, Georgia, when the left rear tire, a Uniroyal Laredo suffered a tread separation. The tire failure caused a loss-of-control rollover, leaving Mrs. Bates with injuries. Mr. Bates suffered catastrophic and permanent spinal and brain injuries that have left him a quadriplegic.

The Atlanta firm of Butler, Wooten & Fryhofer LLP, who represented the Bates family, requested that Michelin produce, among other things, warranty adjustment data, design and production tolerances and documents relating to specific defects. But, after a year of wrangling over confidentiality and the scope of the request, Michelin had only produced a “strikingly small” number of documents. On January 3, 2011, the Court ordered Michelin to produce all of the documents the Bates family sought. Michelin petitioned for reconsideration, and, after losing that round, continued to withhold the documents.

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