Jury Find for Quadriplegic in First Verdict Following Tire Recall
By Donna Huffaker
Daily Journal Staff Writer
April 16, 2001
In the first courtroom trial of a tire tread-separation lawsuit since the Ford-Firestone recall, jurors on Friday awarded $55 million to Cynthia Lampe and her family after unanimously finding that the defect in Continental’s AmeriTech ST caused a 1996 rollover accident that left Lampe paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. Jurors in the Los Angeles Superior Court trial deliberated for eight days.
Calling the tires produced at Continental’s Mt. Vernon plant "ticking time bombs on the roadway," attorney Brian J. Panish said the verdict proves the company puts profits over safety. The company has not made the AmeriTech ST since 1997. Lampe v. Continental General Tire, BC173567 (L.A. Super. Ct., verdict April 13, 2000)
"Continental General Tire got caught red-handed," Panish said outside the county courthouse. "They knew the tire was defective; they knew it had contamination in it. For 12 weeks, the defense claimed there were no defects whatsoever, and the jury resoundingly rejected that."
After the verdict, Lampe’s mother, Sylvia Cortez, hurried from the court to call her husband, Joseph Cortez, with the news. The Cortezes have attended the trial since it began Jan. 25, driving back to their home in Las Vegas on the weekends. Joseph Cortez, a professional boxing referee, had to work Friday.
Shaking and red-eyed, Sylvia Cortez repeatedly said, "Thank you."
"These [jurors] were human beings. They saw what happened to our family," she said.
She said that her 33-year-old daughter who suffers from chronic bladder infections, was not well enough to make the trip for the verdict.
Attorneys for Continental General Tire have vowed to appeal the jury’s verdict that found the tire manufacturer liable for a defect in its product.
Lampe, a former New Jersey resident, injured her spinal cord on June 26, 1996, when the tread on the left rear tire of her Ford Taurus separated as she drove her boyfriend and his mother from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. The blowout caused Lampe to lose control of the Taurus, which slammed into an embankment and rolled over.
Since then, Lampe, a quadriplegic, has moved to Las Vegas so her parents can help take care of her. The former X-ray technician is dependent on others to bathe and dress her.
Walter Yoka of Yoka & Smith, who represented the North Carolina-based company, said he will appeal the decision.
The AmeriTech ST tire that came apart on Interstate 15 that day had traveled 50,000 miles and, Yoka argued during the trial, endured some type of roadway impact roughly 200 to 1,500 miles before the accident.
That prior impact caused the tire tread to separate, he said.
"The jury found there was no design defect, and they awarded no punitive damages," he said. "There were days and days of [plaintiff] testimony about design defects, but the jury found there was no evidence to support those claims."
Although the jurors found no design defects, they did find that the manufacturing was defective, that the defect existed when the tire left the plant, that the defect caused injury to Lampe, that Continental General Tire was negligent in the design in regard to the production and that the tire company’s negligence caused injury to Lampe.
They did not find the company guilty of malice or oppression, however.
The 10-woman, two-man panel did not find Lampe at fault for the accident.
Although Panish likened Continental General Tire’s faulty products to those of Bridgestone/Firestone, Yoka disagreed. In April 2000, Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and Ford recalled roughly 14.4 million tires that contained a safety-related defect.
Most of the tires were original equipment on Ford vehicles, primarily Explorers. Federal official investigated the tires in connection with 300-some accidents and deaths of at least 46 people.
Jurors awarded Lampe and her parents $55,362,496: $49,856,921 to Lampe $4,505,575.36 to her mother, and $1 million to her father. Lampe’s boyfriend was not a party to the lawsuit.
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