February 10, 2015, PLLR E-Newsletter
Defective tire fails, leading to fatal rollover
Antonio De Jesus Mendoza, 22, was riding in the rear passenger seat of a 2003 Toyota Sequoia on a clear, dry day when the SUV’s left rear tire—a Wild Spirit Sport H/T—had a tread separation. The SUV left the road, struck a tree, and rolled over. Mendoza suffered fatal head and spinal trauma. A student at the time of his death, he is survived by his mother.
Several other passengers suffered minor injuries, including scrapes, contusions, sprains; and minor head, neck, back, and knee injuries. Their cumulative medical expenses totaled about $75,000.
Mendoza’s mother, individually and on behalf of his estate, and the other injured passengers sued Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., which manufactured the tire that failed, alleging that it was defectively designed and manufactured, rendering it prone to tread separation and failure. The plaintiffs contended that the tire was defectively manufactured in that it was made with dry, aged components; it lacked adequate rubber-to-rubber adhesion; and the belt skim compound lacked sufficient antidegradant chemicals, which caused the internal components to degrade prematurely.
The plaintiffs also alleged that the tire was defectively designed in that it lacked a full nylon cap ply, which can prevent belt-edge wear and tread separation. The plaintiffs were prepared to show that Cooper had used full nylon cap plies on other model tires and that the company had previously identified nylon cap plies as a way of mitigating tread failures.
Mendoza’s mother and estate claimed wrongful death damages—including unspecified lost earnings, household services, and nonpecuniary damages—as well as survival damages. The other injured passengers sought damages for medical expenses and pain and suffering.
Cooper denied that the tire was defective and argued that it met all federal safety standards, triggering federal preemption. The defendant also argued that the incident was caused by the driver’s negligence and that the tire was materially altered, misused, or improperly maintained.
The plaintiffs settled with Cooper Tire before trial for a confidential amount.
Citation: Mendoza v. Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., No. 2012-74746 (Tex., Harris Co. Jud. Dist. Sept. 16, 2014).
Plaintiff counsel: AAJ members Robert E. Ammons and April A. Strahan, both of Houston.