Goodyear Tire Defect in Motorcycle Accident Case Decision Stands: Illinois Court Allows Expert Opinions Without Pinpointing Precise Cause of Crash

An Illinois federal judge upheld a jury verdict for a woman permanently disabled in a motorcycle crash even though her expert witness did not pinpoint the exact cause of the crash. McCloud v. Goodyear Dunlop Tires N. America, Ltd. WL 2323792 (C.D. Ill. June 2, 2008).

Trish McCloud was severely injured in 2002 when the rear tire blew out on her Honda Gold Wing motorcycle. Her expert witness narrowed down the tire defect to three possible manufacturing errors by defendant, Goodyear. Based on his testimony the jury awarded her damages under her Illinois product liability claim.

Goodyear asked for a new trial, in part because it felt that McCloud’s expert had not adequately proved that its product was defective. McCloud’s expert had testified that the blowout was the result of a nylon cord getting embedded in the tire’s innermost layer rather than the layers of rubber, which was where it belonged. This then caused a bubble to form in the sidewall layer of the tire, which eventually burst. Her expert posed three different ways this Illinois product defect could have occurred during the manufacturing process, but did not pinpoint which one specifically was the cause.

In response, Goodyear reasoned that the blowout was the result of the tire being overloaded and under-inflated. It argued that the motorcycle itself was overweight, which would have contributed to this blowout, and further cited inadequate checking of the tire pressure by the owner. Furthermore, the fact that none of its other customers had reported a similar problem was a factor to be considered.

Goodyear’s arguments were shot down by the federal judge. Judge McDade ridiculed Goodyear’s expectations for proof from plaintiff’s expert. The tire company had urged that the expert’s opinions could not be allowed to be considered without either videotape of workers performing the task on the assembly line that led to this defect, or “a signed confession from a plant manager detailing the bad cord angle”. The judge ruled that this degree of proof was not required under Illinois law and that plaintiff’s expert had adequately laid out his opinions in his trial testimony. Therefore, the jury trial verdict stands.

Time will tell what effect this ruling will have on product liability cases. Will the degree of evidence required to prove liability diminish, with experts only having to convey a plausible theory? When asked for his thoughts, McCloud’s attorney commented that “our primary objective is to make sure that [our client] is fairly compensated for her considerable losses”. And given the permanent and severe nature of McCloud’s injuries, one cannot help thinking that the good guy prevailed.

For over 30 years Kreisman Law Offices has been practicing product liability law in Cook County, including Buffalo Grove, Elmhurst, Arlington Heights, Rolling Meadows, Streamwood, Maywood, and Bridgeview.

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