Recently the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened a preliminary investigation into the field performance of tire manufacturer Goodyear line of "G159" model tires. According to records that were ordered unsealed by a judge last year, the tires--often used on motor homes despite being unfit for the purpose--may have caused wrecks that injured or killed at least 95 people over the last 20 years. This suggests the company failed to report dozens of incidents related to G159 failures.
Goodyear spokespeople still insist the G159 tires aren't defective, and while the company no longer makes them it has not recalled the remaining stock. This has to be motivated by stubbornness, given that the tires are actually designed for urban delivery trucks. When they are placed on motor homes and recreational vehicles that typically travel at highway speeds for long distances the G159 tires have a tendency to overheat and separate, creating potential for serious injury and death. Goodyear allegedly ignored their tendency to fail and pushed to keep outfitting RV sellers' fleets with G159s. Moreover, the company kept information about the defective products quiet by settling cases with claimants and then having the related court records sealed.
Previously, I addressed Goodyear's alleged transgressions in the case of Haeger v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (and its subsequent case, Musnuff v. Haeger) more comprehensively in a separate post. It's a worthwhile read for anyone curious about exactly how poorly the company reacted to what started as a simple products-liability claim.
I'm glad that some plaintiffs have received compensation for their injuries due to these faulty tires, and also that the manufacturer faces legal repercussions for hiding evidence. However, the unfortunate truth is that residents of some states may no longer be able to seek damages, even if they're seriously injured by the defective tires. That's due to a lesser-known cousin of the statute of limitations called the statute of repose.
What Is the Statute of Repose?
Whether or not the legal term statute of limitations rings a bell, many will be aware that a person only has a limited time frame in which to file suit after he or she is injured. It can vary depending on the state of origin and the circumstances of the injury; for instance, many states have altered their statutes of limitations with respect to sexual abuse to provide plaintiffs more time or even do away with deadlines entirely. For most types of injury, however, the statute exists to ensure a plaintiff seeks compensation in a timely manner.
The statute of repose serves a different purpose. It focuses on the amount of time something can reasonably be expected to last without any dangerous malfunctions. We'd all like to believe that everything we purchase is guaranteed for life, but almost everything degrades with use and time. If a company creates a product and it fulfills its function for years and years before wearing down and breaking, should it still be considered faulty? The statute of repose accounts for this by providing immunity related to long-term liability for a product.
The state of Texas sets the personal injury statute of limitations at two years from the date of the alleged harm (Texas Civil Practices & Remedies Code § 16.003). If two years and one day pass before an injured party tries to file a claim, there's a strong chance his or her case would be inadmissible. In a similar fashion, the state applies a fifteen-year statute of repose to many case types, including medical negligence, premises liability, and most relevant to today's topic, product defect and liability claims.
The countdown on a statute of repose starts ticking when the product enters the stream of commerce, which is the general chain from manufacturer to supplier to consumer. If fifteen years or more pass before a product malfunctions and injures someone, the expired statute of repose invalidates any new injury claims that occur after that point. However, if someone is hurt fourteen years and 364 days after buying the product, the statute of limitations would kick in and they'd have two years in which to file suit.
How This Applies to Goodyear
The last time a shipment of Goodyear G159 tires were made and sent into the stream of commerce was the year 2003. At that time the company discontinued the line, having improperly outfitted thousands of motor homes with G159's for seven years. Since the last tires were manufactured and sold in 2003, in 2018 the statute of repose is essentially past for filing new suits. Anyone injured due to separating or overheating G159s may no longer be able to pursue compensation from Goodyear in court, as the tires will allegedly have managed 15 years of reasonable function by that point.
I'm glad for anyone who didn't suffer injury or loss from the malfunction of a G159 tire on their RV over the last 15 or more years. I wish no one had been hurt or killed, and that there was no criticism to level at Goodyear for their efforts to avoid the truth. However, the company may be responsible for almost 100 life-changing (or ending) incidents--many of which they didn't report to the NHTSA, and many others that could have been stopped if they had properly handled the mounting evidence against their dangerous product. Knowing how they tried to manipulate both the market and the legal fallout, it's a pity that anyone else hurt by their actions may be barred from recovery.