Arkansas judge sends Cooper Tire case to Mexico

Michelle Massey, East Texas Bureau Nov. 24, 2009, 7:53am

TEXARKANA, Ark. -- A lawsuit over a vehicle accident that occurred in Mexico is better heard in a Mexican court, U.S. District Judge Harry F. Barnes decided on Nov. 19.

The one-car crash took place in Mexico in December 2007, when a 1997 Ford Explorer left the road and entered a roll-over. One passenger was killed and several others injured.

The passengers allege the accident was caused by the vehicle's left rear tire suddenly separating from the tire body. The tire, a Cooper Discoverer H/T, was manufactured in Texarkana, Ark., in 2004.

Jose Cruz, individually and as a personal representative of the estate of deceased Irene S. Salas, and Irene Guerrero, Jorge Amezquita, and Miriam Amezquita filed suit against Cooper Tire and Rubber Company on April 13 in the Texarkana Division of the Western District of Arkansas.

U.S. District Judge Harry F. Barnes issued an opinion and order on Nov. 19, granting Cooper Tire's Motion to Dismiss on forum non conveniens grounds.

The motion argues that the Arkansas jurisdiction may be proper but that Mexico will be more convenient for the litigants and witnesses.

The defendant states that the accident location, reports, responding officers, are all in Mexico and would be a significant burden to make them available in Arkansas. Further, Cooper Tire has agreed to submit to the jurisdiction of a Mexican court.

Judge Barnes agrees with Cooper Tire that it is in the plaintiffs' best interest to try this case close to their home. Finding Mexico an available and adequate forum, Judge Barnes grants Cooper Tire's request for dismissal.

The plaintiffs claim that Cooper Tire knew the tire presented an unreasonably dangerous condition and that it possessed certain defects.

The suit alleges the tire did not contain measures to prevent tread separation, specifically, it did not incorporate a "belt wedge," nylon cap ply, or nylon edge strips and failed to employ a high-halobutyl content inner liner.

Further, the plaintiffs argue that the tire did not incorporate an effective chemical to prevent premature aging of the tire materials and the tire was poorly bonded allowing premature failure and tread separation.

The complaint states, "economically and technologically feasible design alternatives were available to Defendant Cooper Tire at the time the Discoverer tire in question left the hands of said Defendant, however, Defendant Cooper Tire knowingly and intentionally failed to incorporate any such safer alternative designs into the Discoverer line of truck tires."

The plaintiffs argue the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards are inapplicable to the defective aspects of the design to protect the public from unreasonable risks.

Further causes of action filed against Cooper Tire include strict liability for design and manufacture of a defective product, negligence, and breach of express and implied warranties, post-sale failure to warn, recall or retrofit.

Cooper Tire notes that the driver of the vehicle was arrested shortly after the accident and tested positive for having alcohol in his system.

The plaintiffs are seeking more than $75,000 indamages for pecuniary loss, loss of maintenance, support, services, advice of counsel, loss of companionship and society, loss of benefits from the love, comfort, companionship and mental anguish.

Other damages sought include pain and mental anguish, physical pain, loss of earning capacity, disfigurement, physical impairment, emotional pain, torment, and suffering, medical expenses, funeral and burial expenses.

Also seeking exemplary damages, the plaintiffs argue the defendant's actions were not the "result of a simple mistake, accident or inadvertence," but acted with the knowledge that consumers of its products could suffer bodily injury or death from the result of the defective design.

Texarkana attorney Darren Anderson, League City attorney Chad B. Matthews of Matthews and Forester, San Antonio attorney Reynaldo L. Diaz, Jr, and League City attorney Nathan A. Hardee are representing the plaintiffs in their allegations.

Case No 4:2009cv04033

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