June 29, 2010
Goodyear’s G159 and a Class-A Motor Home was always a bad match. The tire was designed for urban delivery vehicles and speed-rated for only 65 mile per hour continuous use. Nonetheless, Goodyear had marketed the G159 to the RV industry for nearly a decade in the 1990s and 2000s, even though the tire design was prone to overheat on RVs that typically travel at greater speeds for extended periods. Goodyear knew it was dangerous for motor homes, but didn’t want lose a market segment. So, in 1998, after speed limits increased nationwide, Goodyear bumped the speed rating of the G159 to 75 miles per hour.
By 1999, there had been two recalls and one Product Service Bulletin to replace G159 tires on RVs, but the recalls blamed inadequate load margin and customer misuse, and did not identify the tire design itself as defective. In fact, Goodyear has consistently assured the public that the tires are safe for all uses.
That claim was officially refuted on Friday afternoon in a Pasco County, Florida Circuit Court, when the jury in Schalmo v. Goodyear handed the tiremaker 5.6 million reasons to stop insisting that a G159 was okay to install on an RV. The jury found that the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company had sold a defective tire marketed to recreational motor home manufacturers, even though the tire was not suitable for RV use.
Christopher Roberts and Hugh Smith of Smith, Fuller and Roberts, P.A., a Tampa Bay firm specializing in tire litigation, represented the plaintiffs. The $5.6 million award represents one of the largest verdicts in Pasco County.
A failed Goodyear G159 was the cause of an August 11, 2004 crash that seriously injured the driver and two occupants. The tire was original equipment on a 2000 American Tradition motor home owned by John Schalmo of Port Richey, Florida. Schalmo was heading westbound on State Road 8 in Chipley, when the right-front tire of his motor home suffered a catastrophic tread separation. Schalmo lost control of the RV and veered off the right side of the roadway, heading out of control across an exit ramp and into a line of trees. Schalmo, and his wife’s parents William and Ruth McClintock, were seriously injured. William McClintock lost both legs as a result of the crash; he died of unrelated causes two years before the trial.
This was the first G159 tire case to be resolved in a public trial. Goodyear has quietly settled as many as a dozen G159 tread separation cases involving serious injuries and deaths, in exchange for confidentiality. The Schalmo and McClintock families refused to agree to a confidential settlement, and have expressed their hope that Goodyear will recall the tire.
At trial, Roberts and Smith presented Goodyear documents including internal heat and speed testing and failure rate data that Roberts and Smith argued showed that Goodyear knew the G159 was improperly approved for 75 mph continuous highway use. Excessive heat in a tire will break down its internal components over time, and is a leading cause of tread belt detachment failures, as typified by the Schalmo crash
In a 2006 Fleet Owner magazine feature, a Goodyear marketing communications manager acknowledged that the G159 was a truck tire that had not been developed for RVs. That same year, Goodyear stopped selling the G159 and replaced it with a more robust tire specifically designed for motor home use. But Goodyear has never recalled the all of the G159 tires already sold, and tens of thousands or perhaps more remain in the field.
Circuit Court Judge Stanley Mills has given Goodyear 45 days to present arguments for sealing the confidential Goodyear materials shown to the jury. Continued confidentiality is unlikely under the Florida Sunshine in Litigation Act, which prohibits a court from sealing corporate documents that would conceal a public hazard.
More on Goodyear G159: Goodyear Destroys Testimony Admitting RV Tire is Defective