Goodyear Tires Draw Lawsuits, No Recall

ByABC News via via logo

May 19, 2003 -- After 19-year-old Jennie Swanson died in a wreck in Arizona three years ago, her family was overwhelmed by grief, but the sadness turned to anger at the company that made the tires on Swanson's vehicle.

Swanson's sister, Maren, and her mother, Deborah Linzer, say a Goodyear tire caused the crash that killed Jennie Swanson and shattered their lives.

"I had no idea how devastating grief was," Linzer said. "I had no idea how crippling it was to miss your child."

After wrestling with their anger, the family filed one of 47 lawsuits against Goodyear, alleging a defect in a particular type of tire that the company manufactured. Theirs and other similar lawsuits claimed the rubber tread on the tires peeled away from the steel belts beneath and that this "tread separation" caused crashes, injuries, and in some cases, death.

"Suing Goodyear was about justice," Linzer said. "It was about trying to spare some other mother and father from losing their most precious, precious thing."

Recall Needed?

The tires called into question are certain Goodyear Load Range "E" type tires made between 1991 and 2000. It is estimated that millions of the tires remain on the road on large, heavily loaded sport utility vehicles, pickups and commercial-sized vans.

Linzer, who just marked her third Mother's Day without her daughter, says there should be a recall of the tires.

"It is criminal that those tires are still on the road because they still carry their defect with them, which means that they still have the power to kill innocent people." Linzer said.

Goodyear says the tires "were, and still are, quality tires," and urges drivers to make sure the tires are properly inflated.

‘Alarming’ Rate of Claims

In a deposition obtained by Good Morning America, a retired Goodyear engineer testified that by the mid-1990s, the company was concerned enough about the tires to begin an internal investigation. Goodyear was concerned about the number of tread separation claims.

"Those claims were growing at an alarming rate," engineer Beale Robinson testified in a video deposition.

Between 1991 and 2001, there were tread separations in 15,000 Load Range "E" tires.

Goodyear says its investigation found no defect in the tires. Further, the company said that in the Swanson wreck and other crashes it looked at, tread separation was caused in every case by either overloading of the vehicle, under-inflation of the tire, or other misuse of the vehicle.

Some drivers do overload their vehicles, or worse, under-inflate the tires, and if those factors are paired with potholes or poorly repaired punctures, even the safest tire can have tread separation.

In most cases, drivers handle tread separation without crashing, but not always.

87 Crashes, One Decade

A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigation turned up 87 reported crashes involving Goodyear Load Range "E" tires between 1991 and 2001. It is a low percentage of the millions sold, but half of the crashes caused injuries — 158 injuries, in all — and some were serious. Eighteen people died.

"That's a national tragedy," said Allan Kam, a government lawyer who worked on legal issues in hundreds of auto defect investigations.

Now he often works as an expert witness for people suing Goodyear and has worked on some cases that involve injuries or one fatality.

Goodyear Says Product Isn’t the Problem

In a statement, Goodyear expressed condolences to the families of those who died.

"Our hearts go out to the families who have lost loved ones, but we know that their losses are not because of any problem in the design or manufacture of our products," Goodyear said.

In 1996, the company redesigned the tires, adding an extra nylon cap or overlay between the tread and the steel belts. Goodyear says that was a response to trends of overloading, larger vehicles, higher speeds and improper tire inflation.

Good Morning America has learned that since the government investigation closed, Goodyear received reports of 10 more crashes serious enough to cause 26 additional injuries and five more deaths.

Last year, after the government asked more questions about the tires, Goodyear said it would replace LRE tires with the newer type on 15 passenger vans and ambulances. Most of the injuries and deaths linked to the tires have been in large vans.

After that, the government closed the investigation.

Which Tires Are Affected?

The agreement does not apply to millions of others with the controversial tires on their SUVs, pickups or utility vans. If those motorists want new tires, they must pay for them. The tires were all made by Goodyear, but many of them don't have the Goodyear brand on them, because they were sold by many different retailers under various brand names.

They do all have the words: Load Range E on the sidewall. Plus, the new design tires with the nylon cap say 2 polyester cords, plus 2 steel cords, plus 2 nylon cords. If you don't see those 2 nylon cords, you may have one of the old design tires.

A Goodyear dealer can determine if Load Range E tires are made by Goodyear.

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