In Maryland, a Prince George’s County Circuit Court jury assessed damages of $18.9 million against Wal-Mart Stores Inc., for putting a new tire on an eroded rim…an action that led to the death of a woman and her two children.
On November 7, 2009, eight people were traveling in a minivan from California to Maryland after visiting relatives when they realized their vehicle’s left rear tire had a flat. A good Samaritan stopped and agreed to take the driver and the car’s rim to the Wal-Mart store in Creston, Iowa, where Wal-Mart mechanics installed a new tire on the eroded rim.
The minivan was driving east on Interstate 80, approximately eight hours after having the new tire installed, when the driver swerved to avoid something in the road, as stated in the lawsuit. That is when the rim failed and the tire blew, causing the driver to lose control of the vehicle. The minivan rolled over three times.
A mother and her two children were killed in the wreck. Three others suffered injuries. One passenger sustained a brain injury, as well as partial amputation of his right leg. Another passenger injured her right hand in the crash.
The personal representative of the three estates, in addition to three other people who were injured in the crash, filed a lawsuit against Wal-Mart and the car’s driver on November 4, 2011, alleging negligence.
Due to the negligence of Wal-Mart, a new tire was installed on a rusty rim. Industry safety standards, employee training and company procedures outline the proper way this should have been handled, but the Wal-Mart employee did not follow through. There was no system in place to over-see the work or at least check it and correct it if need be.
The vehicle had been scrapped before the victims hired a lawyer in the case, which made the case more difficult. Since there was no vehicle, nor rim or tire present, jurors used photos taken by police and family members after the accident at the trial. In addition, an expert was able to analyze a GPS from the van, which provided second-by-second information on the car’s location, angle and speed.
At the end of the nine-day trial, the jury found the driver not to be responsible for the deaths.
Wal-Mart contended that due to the unavailability of the minivan and the tire and the rim at trial, the case should not proceed. Iowa substantive law was applied to the wrongful death claims and Indiana substantive law applied to the personal injury claims. It was contended that the amounts of non-economic damages awarded should remain as is because neither Iowa nor Indiana cap damages. The jury had awarded the plaintiffs close to $17 million in non-economic damages.
It is well known in the industry that new tires are never installed on a rusted rim. Even though training teaches the mechanics this important rule and industry standards make it very clear, Wal-Mart chose not to follow company rules, which directly led to this tragedy.
For more information, contact one of our Gacovino Lake attorneys at 1-800-246-HURT (4878).