The lawyers at Hillyard, Anderson and Olsen in Logan, Utah are currently involved in a very interesting lawsuit. Here are the details:

On June 20, 2009, the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s decision and ruled that the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., over the tragic and deadly crash of a Utah State University van in 2005 (link to original story from 2005) have a right to documents showing how the tires were made. The Court ordered Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. to release information and documents on the design and construction of its tires. Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. manufactured the tires on the van that rolled after the left rear tire exploded.

The lawsuit against Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. arose out of the tragic September 26, 2005 accident in Northern Utah’s Box Elder County where the tread belt on a tire made by Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. separated, causing the driver to lose control of the fifteen-passenger van. As a result of the tire exploding, the van went off the road and rolled over several time before coming to a stop. The van was carrying eleven individuals—ten agriculture students and an instructor back to campus after visiting a farm in Northern Utah. Nine of the eleven individuals in the van died from the injuries they sustained in the accident. The remaining two passengers, both students, suffered severe injuries, but survived.

The survivors and heirs of the deceased passengers, some of whom are represented by Hillyard, Anderson & Olsen, brought suit against Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., alleging that Cooper Tire knew or should have known that their tires were prone to tread separation within their normal and intended use.

The plaintiffs claimed that “prior to the production of the Van Tire, Cooper Tire realized that its tires suffered from an unreasonably high rate of tread separation, but deliberately failed to make design changes or warn consumers about the problems with its tires. Also, plaintiffs alleged that the information available to Cooper Tire before production of the tire even began “confirmed that Copper Tire knew about these dangerous and defective conditions.” Specifically, Plaintiffs argument is that the tire was defective (which lead to the separation and resulting crash) because of: “(1) improper skim bonding between the upper and lower steel belts in the subject tire, (2) ineffective and/or permeable inner liner; (3) lack of tread belt wedge; (4) ineffective anti-oxidants or anti-ozonants, [and] (5) lack of nylon cap plies.”

In its decision, the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals indicated that “plaintiffs’ claims in this case are not purely speculative; where … the tread of one of Cooper Tire’s tires did, in fact, separate….”, ultimately resulting the death of the eight Utah State University students and an instructor. As to the production of the information and documents on the design and construction of the tires, the Court, as noted above, upheld the lower court’s finding that plaintiffs should “be permitted to engage in discovery in line with their broad theory of the case” … as “plaintiffs had demonstrated that the trade secret documents were relevant and necessary to their case….”

Herm Olsen, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys in this case and a shareholder with Hillyard, Anderson & Olsen, said in response to the Court of Appeals’ ruling that “[t]his is a real victory for people injured by defective products. Big business tries to get away with whatever they can to preserve their profit margin, and the Court has said that they cannot hide behind privilege anymore. Just looking at your tires may work if it’s a tire pressure issue. But these tires have specific, hidden defects which are invisible to the naked eye. We know it. They know it. Now the Court has allowed us to prove it. We will continue to insist that companies be responsible and accountable—or they will pay the price.”

(Much of this entry was taken from the Court’s language in its decision; here is a link to the 10th Cir. Ct. of Appeals’ decision: