Family seeks $100 million in punitive damages from Cooper Tire for blowout fatality

Michelle Massey, East Texas Bureau Jan. 15, 2008, 4:43am

David Matthews

TEXARKANA -- Texas resident Tammy Ledbetter suffered fatal injuries when the pickup truck she was riding in went into a spin and flipped. Her family believes the vehicle's accident was caused by a "violent blow-out" when the tread separated from the tire and are seeking $100 million in punitive damages for the "wanton and willful recklessness" of Cooper Tire and Rubber Company.

Tammy's husband Donnie Ledbetter, individually, as estate representative and on behalf of his three children, filed a product liability suit on Jan. 7 against Cooper Tire and Rubber Company in the Texarkana Division of the Eastern District of Texas.

According to the plaintiffs' original complaint, Tammy Ledbetter died on May 15, 2006, when she was riding in a 2000 Mazda half-ton pickup driven by Lauren Cortez.

The complaint argues strict liability against Cooper Tire by stating the tire was unreasonably dangerous due to its defective condition and argues those defects caused the fatal injuries of Ledbetter.

"The defective condition of the tire made it unsafe for operation and rendered it unreasonably dangerous and inconsistent with the representations and warranties to the users thereof," the complaint details.

The tire, manufactured at the Cooper Tire in Texarkana, Ark., was used as intended and in a foreseeable manner, the plaintiff states.

Donnie Ledbetter contends that a "reasonable, economical, and feasible alternative" was available to Cooper Tire that would not have caused or allowed tread separation and thus, prevented his wife's fatal injuries.

In addition to design defects, the plaintiff claims the tire was insufficiently tested and should not have been marketed by the defendant. The complaint argues negligence and negligent misrepresentation against Cooper Tire stating that before the accident in question, the defendant knew, concealed, or failed to disclose of certain defects associated with the tire.

The wrongful death suit states that the defendant made these "misrepresentations and actively concealed adverse information" when it "knew or should have known its tire product had defects, dangers and characteristics" contrary to what it represented to consumers.

The plaintiff maintains that the defendant failed to warn of the tire's dangerous condition, failed to establish proper tread bond, failed to properly design the tire, failed to take reasonable precautions for consumer's safety, and failed to do what "a reasonably and prudent" tire manufacturer would have done under similar circumstances.

The Ledbetter family is seeking damages for medical expenses, costs of the deceased's care, funeral and burial expenses, deceased's pain and suffering, past and future loss of wages and employment benefits, loss of companionship, support and consortium, attorney fees, pre and post-judgment interest, and costs of court.

Houston attorneys David P. Matthews and Jason C. Webster of the law firm Matthews and Associates are representing the plaintiffs and requesting a trial by jury.

U.S. District Judge David Folsom will preside.

Case No. 5:08cv00004

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