Friday, July 2, 2010 | 11:55 a.m.
CARSON CITY – The Nevada Supreme Court has upheld a $32.2 million judgment in Clark County against Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company related to a single-car accident that killed three people and injured seven.
The court rejected the claim of Goodyear that the amount awarded by the jury was excessive.
The majority decision, written by Justice Mark Gibbons, said there was sufficient evidence to justify the amount because of the loss of life and serious injuries and it does “not shock our judicial conscience.”
The car's occupants were traveling from Nevada to Kansas to attend a boxing match when a tire blew out and the vehicle overturned near Moab, Utah, on Interstate 70 on Aug. 16, 2004. Killed were Evertina Tapia, Andres Torres and Frank Enriquez.
A suit was filed by the surviving relatives and guardians of the children against Goodyear, Ford Motor Company and Valley View Hitch & Truck Rental. Both Ford and Valley View settled their claim.
During the pre-trial maneuvering, District Judge Sally Loehrer found that Goodyear failed to produce a witness and gave improper responses to interrogatories. She found that Goodyear “has taken the approach of stalling, obstructing and objecting” in its pre-trial behavior. As a sanction, Loehrer ruled that Goodyear could not present a defense of liability but only could argue to the jury the amount of compensatory damages and if it was subject to punitive damages.
The jury came back with the $32.2 million verdict but didn't return punitive damages.
The survivors also appealed Loehrer’s decision that they would have to establish liability to receive punitive damages. The Supreme Court, however, backed up Loehrer in her ruling on the issue.
Justice Kristina Pickering dissented from the majority, saying Judge Loehrer imposed an “excessive penalty” on Goodyear’s pre-trial conduct. She said there was no evidentiary hearing to decide the disputed issues of fact over the blown tire.
She said the most fundamental of due process rights for Goodyear were violated.