Motor vehicle crash injuries in Charlotte are most often predicated by the actions of careless or reckless drivers who fail to follow the laws of the road.
However, there are cases in which defective vehicles or defective vehicle parts can be the cause of a personal injury action in North Carolina. Some of those in recent years that have resulted in litigation include:
- Sport utility vehicles that have a propensity to roll over;
- Cars that are sold with tires that are prone to blowout;
- Motorcycles that, when driven at high speeds, “wobble”;
- All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) that are likely to roll over.
A defective product claim is what was made following a crash in the case of Brown v. Michelin North America, Inc., recently reviewed by the Alabama Supreme Court.
The case first unfolded in the spring of 2010. At that time, the plaintiff and her husband were traveling on a highway outside of Mobile when a tire that had been mounted to the rear passenger side of their early-90s model Ford Explorer sport-utility vehicle failed. This caused a crash in which the husband was killed and the wife (plaintiff) was seriously injured.
The tire that had failed had been manufactured in 2004 at a facility in Oklahoma owned by Michelin (which owns the B.F. Goodrich brand).
The following year, the plaintiff sued Michelin, as well as several others, in her individual capacity as well as a personal representative for her husband’s estate. She alleged her injuries, as well as her husband’s death, had been the result of product liability, negligence, wantonness, breach of warranties and misrepresentation – all stemming from the tread separation of the tire in question.
In the course of the discovery phase of the lawsuit, the plaintiff filed 56 requests for production and 22 interrogatories. The company responded that the scope of these requests were too broad, indicating that the information she sought was both irrelevant to the case and confidential trade secrets.
The company did end up turning over some of the information, with specific agreements laid out as to how certain confidential information would be handled. However, the company refused to turn over all of the information requested.
The trial court narrowed the scope of those requests, but still ordered the company to comply.
The company then sought a stay on the matter, as it wished to seek appellate review, specifically with regard to an inspection of its Oklahoma tire manufacturing facility.
After numerous back-and-forth proceedings, the matter was ultimately offered up to the appellate court for review, and then later to the state supreme court.
The high court noted that discovery matters fall soundly within the trial court’s discretion, and higher courts will not reverse a trial court’s ruling on discretionary matters unless it’s clear that the lower court has exceeded its discretion.
In this case, the state supreme court did find that the lower court had exceeded its discretion in ordering the company to open its doors to inspection for the purposes of gathering irrelevant information and a failure to protect its trade secrets.
In these cases, it is the company that is going to have the burden of proving that the information sought by the plaintiff is protected as a trade secret that would result in injury if revealed. If such a showing is made, then the burden shifts to the plaintiff to prove why it is both necessary and relevant for that information to be presented in court anyway.
At that point, it is up to the court to balance those two interests.
Here, the high court found that the trial court avoided directly deciding whether the firm had appropriately established that its manufacturing equipment, processes and techniques constituted as trade secrets. Determining this should have been key before moving forward.
While the high court’s decision may serve as a set back to the plaintiff, it’s not the end of the case.
It’s worth noting that this is just one of potentially thousands of defective tire cases against Michelin. In 2012, the company recalled some 37,000 bus tires, indicating a sidewall defect that increases the risk that the tire will rapidly lose air, causing an accident. Another tire recall was issued last July for some 100,000 non-commercial vehicle Michelin tires for the very same reason.
If you have been injured in a Charlotte car accident, contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.
Brown v. Michelin North America, Inc., February 2014, Alabama Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
NC Car Accident Study: Post-Crash Neck Pain is Common, Feb. 3, 2014, Charlotte Car Accident Lawyer Blog