FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Press Reports Note Alarming Deaths, But Key Documents Remain Secret in Court
Trial Lawyers for Public Justice (TLPJ) and Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS) sought public access today to key documents and testimony about the dangers of Goodyear 16-inch Load Range E light truck tires. Press reports have disclosed a growing number of deaths and injuries involving these tires, but the documents and testimony about the tires’ dangers remain under seal in a New Jersey case. The case was filed after three U.S. Air Force personnel riding in a General Motors Suburban were killed and three others were injured when a Goodyear tire came apart and their vehicle rolled over.“This is the latest disturbing example of court secrecy being used to hide potential dangers to the public,” said TLPJ Executive Director Arthur H. Bryant. “Dozens of people were killed or maimed before Firestone’s and Bridgestone’s tires were recalled because protective orders prevented the public and the government from learning the truth. The public has a right to know whether these Goodyear tires are unsafe now to make sure that this gruesome scenario is not repeated.”
The critical documents and testimony are currently under seal in Frankl v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Mercer County. TLPJ formally moved to intervene, vacate or modify the protective order, and seek public access to the documents on behalf of CARS, a national, non-profit, automobile and consumer safety organization that works to promote auto safety and prevent motor vehicle-related deaths, injuries and economic losses through public policy and advocacy.
“Goodyear has admitted that these light truck tires may have been a factor in at least 30 accidents, including 120 injuries and 15 deaths,”said CARS President Rosemary Shahan. “How many more drivers and passengers have to be maimed or die before Goodyear discloses its full knowledge of how and why these tires are failing?”
The potential dangers of Goodyear’s tires were first brought to light by plaintiffs’ counsel in Frankl, Christine D. Spagnoli of Greene, Broillet, Taylor, Wheeler & Panish in Santa Monica, California. Spagnoli had previously represented Brian Mathews, a Los Angeles police officer, who was rendered a paraplegic when tire treads on the bomb squad vehicle he was driving separated and the vehicle rolled over. At that time, Goodyear’s lawyers told her there were no similar instances involving these tires. The case settled for a total of $7.9 million and Spagnoli returned the evidence she had gathered, as a protective order in the case required.After Spagnoli was retained in the Frankl case, she learned of at least eight other similar crashes involving 28 occupants and nine deaths. She then challenged Goodyear’s efforts to keep the evidence she had discovered secret and wrote to TLPJ’s Bryant, saying that she did not believe the documents involved trade secrets, that “the public has a strong interest in disclosure because of the public safety issues,” and that this “is a case that demands action to prevent further injuries or death.”
“This crucial evidence should not be kept secret,” said Christopher M. Placitella of Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer in Woodbridge, New Jersey, TLPJ’s lead counsel in the case. “These documents are supposed to be open to the public unless Goodyear can prove that its interest in secrecy outweighs the public interest in access. We do not believe Goodyear can meet that burden.”
The danger of these tires has been highlighted by recent press reports. On October 25, the Los Angeles Times reported that Goodyear had learned five years ago of a problem with these tires that its engineers labeled “alarming” and changed the design to strengthen them, but chose not to notify the federal government or recall the millions of tires already on the road. The tires are sold under numerous names, including Goodyear Wrangler AT and HT, Goodyear All-Season Workhorse, Kelly-Springfield Power King, and Kelly-Springfield Trailbuster. They are primarily used on light trucks, passenger vans, and large sport utility vehicles. The possible danger of these tires is particularly significant in light of the recently-disclosed problems with Firestone and Bridgestone tires. Goodyear Chairman Samir G. Gibara stated on October 24 that his company is trying to take advantage of the fact that competitor Bridgestone/Firestone recalled 6.5 million passenger tires by selling more Goodyear tires.
TLPJ’s challenge in Frankl is part of Project ACCESS, its 12-year, nationwide campaign against court secrecy. Through Project ACCESS, TLPJ helps victims oppose unduly restrictive protective orders, intervenes in specific cases to fight for the public’s right to know, and educates the courts and the public about the problems posed by litigation in secret.In addition to Bryant and Placitella, TLPJ’s legal team in Frankl includes Angelo J. Cifaldi and Robert T. Haefele of Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer and TLPJ Staff Attorney Rebecca E. Epstein.
Trial Lawyers for Public Justice is the only public interest law firm dedicated to using trial lawyers’ skills and resources to advance the public good. Founded in 1982, TLPJ utilizes a network of more than 2,200 of the nation’s outstanding trial lawyers to pursue precedent–setting and socially significant litigation. TLPJ has a wide–ranging litigation docket in the areas of consumer rights, worker safety, civil rights and liberties, toxic torts, environmental protection, and access to the courts. TLPJ is the principal project of The TLPJ Foundation, a not–for–profit membership organization. The TLPJ web site address is
www.tlpj.org. TLPJ’s State Coordinator in New Jersey is Beth Baldinger, tel. (908) 218-0060. The CARS web site address is