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Dunlop Tire Ordered to Pay $3.1 Million

Sep 23, 2005 |

A jury found Dunlop Tire Co. liable for manufacturing defective tires and ordered the company to pay $3.1 million in a wrongful death lawsuit.

On Oct. 4, 1999, Katherine Vaughn and her husband, Richard, were traveling in their Mazda MPV minivan when their right rear tire blew out, causing the van to flip over several times. Richard Vaughn, the passenger, was killed in the crash.

His widow sued Dunlop, which is owned by Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., and Tee Pee Tire, an Ocala business.

For almost two weeks, jurors listened to evidence about whether or not the tires were made properly at a Dunlop factory and whether or not Tee Pee Tire made bad repairs that caused the tire to malfunction.

"Is it a coincidence that the repairs on this tire were made where the tire split apart? This is not a coincidence," said a Dunlop lawyer in his closing argument. "The tire industry has been condemned here. The tire was coming apart where the puncture repairs had been made."

Vaughn's lawyer, said the tires have the same defect that several other tire manufacturers have already recognized. The tread on the tires begins to split, he said. The tires on the Vaughn's minivan had about 30,000 miles and were the D65 terrain tire model.

"This is the same defect that Firestone had in the late '90s. This is a national problem," Kaster said. "There are people dying every day on our highways. These tire companies need to be held accountable."

While the clerk read the verdict, Katherine Vaughn and her daughter Kerri Vaughn sat quietly, holding hands. They cried and hugged each other afterward. Fifth Circuit Senior Judge Bill Swigert presided over the trial.

"I feel very grateful that the jury realized that the tires were defective. These tire companies can't keep killing people," Kerri Vaughn said.

Katherine Vaughn, 83, and husband would have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in November. Instead, on the day of their anniversary, the family is having a memorial service.

"If my husband's death, if this saves someone's life, then justice has been served," Katherine Vaughn said.

Jurors found that Tee Pee Tire did not make repairs improperly.

"Our client Tee Pee Tire has been completely exonerated," said Mike Walker. "This has been a really tough time for the small, family business especially when you have the big guns from Dunlop Tire Company blaming you for the crash."

Kaster said he is going to fight a motion made by Sykes to seal portions of the trial that reveal practices at Dunlop's factories and how the company may have tried to cover up defects in its products.

"In America, to seal a record is unforgiveable, especially when so many people have died because of these tires," Kaster said. "They need to be open so the public knows what this tire company has done."

Sykes refused to comment after the trial.

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