The recent case of Book v. Voma Tire Corp. involves an allegedly defective tire that resulted in serious injury. However, the case differs a bit in that the vehicle wasn’t in motion at the time of injury. Rather, it reportedly blew up on a teenager who was attempting to inflate it.
The issue before the Iowa Supreme Court in this case was whether a large, multi-national defendant had the right to have the case dismissed in state district court for lack of personal jurisdiction. That is, the defendant didn’t operate in the state of Iowa. It’s a Chinese company. Thus, it argued the district court didn’t have the right to hear the case.
However, the Iowa Supreme Court disagreed, allowing this defective tire product liability claim to move forward in state court.
According to court records, the victim was 17 at the time of the incident, son of an owner/operator of an auto repair shop. He worked part-time for his father through an apprentice program at his high school.
The teen’s father agreed to mount a new set of tires for a customer’s horse trailer. The tires were purchased from a local retailer, but they were made in China. The father had trouble getting one of the tires to seat properly on the rim, but he didn’t realize he was attempting to mount a 16-inch tire to an older-model 16.5-inch rim (apparently, a common mistake). He was distracted by a phone call and walked away from the rim. The tire was under-inflated.
The teen then walked in with a co-worker and, without first talking to his father, started to air up the tire.
The tire exploded. The teen suffered severe injuries. He was permanently blinded in one eye. He lost a huge part of his jaw. His sense of taste and smell was gone. He now has only partial use of his left arm and hand. He has endured numerous treatments and therapies by a dozen different medical specialists.
The teen’s mother filed a product liability action on her son’s behalf, seeking damages for her son’s personal injuries and medical expenses, as well as her loss of consortium.
A number of defendants were named, including the company that designed/sold the machine used to mount and inflate the tire, the wholesaler that sold the tire and the Chinese-based manufacturer of the tire. Additional defendants were later added.
The Chinese manufacturer filed a motion to dismiss based on lack of personal jurisdiction. The company manufactured more than 3 million tires just in the nine months preceding this incident. The firm has no offices or employees in the U.S. and it doesn’t advertise here.
The importer of those tires, also a named defendant, is based in Tennessee. It provided the specifications for tires ordered, and purchased 180,000 of them in late 2009. Of those, nearly 17,000 went to the distributor in Iowa, where the one in question was purchased.
Trial court granted defense motion to dismiss, finding that because defendant didn’t operate in Iowa, state courts did not have jurisdiction.
State supreme court reversed. Defendant is a large, high-volume manufacturer selling to a national market. The court ruled personal jurisdiction was established based on the company’s direct shipments to the state of Iowa and indirect shipments of hundreds of thousands more tires to the state via an American-based distributor – including the one involved in this workplace injury.
The Ferraro Law Firm handles claims resulting from defective products or dangerous pharmaceuticals. Call 1-800-275-3332 for a free and confidential consultation. Offices in Miami and Washington, D.C.
Book v. Voma Tire Corp., March 6, 2015, Iowa Supreme Court
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