For several years RVtravel.com has followed the story of Goodyear’s G159 tires. More than 40 lawsuits have been filed against the tire company over claims of alleged defects associated with these tires. That number was as of 2018, and many had been quietly settled by the company under the cloak of non-disclosure agreements. All of these matters have been on the civil side. But Goodyear now may be facing a legal horse of a different color. A federal grand jury is collecting evidence in a criminal investigation.
Out of production
Not familiar with G159 tires? That wouldn’t be surprising. When we first reported on this back in 2018, the tires had already been out of production for 15 years. Why the sudden interest? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had taken enough jabs from unhappy consumers that it started an investigation into the possibility that the tires had some sort of inherent defect. Although the tires stopped rolling off production lines long before, it estimated that there could be as many as 40,000 of the tires still on U.S. roadways at that time.
What alarmed NHTSA were reports from motorhome owners using the G159s. Incidents of sidewall blowouts and tread separation were reported. In some cases damage was limited to the actual tire, but others reported loss of control, with RVs crashing into guardrails. A consumer advocacy group, the Center for Auto Safety, said that it had records of “at least 98 deaths or injury claims,” in addition to more than 600 property damage claims. Why hadn’t NHTSA acted sooner? NHTSA claimed that it was largely in the dark—court orders to seal records kept them “out of the loop.” NHTSA eventually issued a recall notice for the G159 tires. That was in 2022.
Grand Jury gets involved
Now a federal grand jury in Los Angeles has breathed new life into this seemingly old case. The jury has issued subpoenas for records that tie back, once again, to a case we reported on. In 2003, LeRoy Haeger and his family were traveling New Mexico on I-25 in their Class A motorhome. Their right steer tire blew, and LeRoy lost control. The big motorhome went over an embankment, ejecting the family’s Great Dane through the windshield. LeRoy was pinned by the steering wheel and suffered chest and abdominal injuries, as well as having his right leg nearly cut off below the knee. He went through 17 surgeries in the aftermath.
The Haegers retained David Kurtz, an Arizona attorney. Kurtz filed suit for the family, and before the case reached a courtroom, Goodyear settled with the family in 2010. But a year later, Kurtz was alarmed to find information that showed Goodyear had failed to respond to the family’s request for full information on Goodyear’s own testing of the tires. Information that might have led to a different handling of the matter.
Kurtz and the Haegers hauled Goodyear back to court alleging that the tire maker had lied and concealed material facts. In 2012, a federal judge sided with the Haegers. The judge declared that the tire maker and their attorneys had made “repeated, deliberate decisions” to “delay the production of relevant information, make misleading and false in-court statements, and conceal relevant documents.” He ordered Goodyear pay the Haegers $2.7 million in additional damages. Goodyear appealed, and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling eventually knocked down the amount to $520,000.
Moving van for materials?
So, just who got the Grand Jury subpoena? The Haegers’ attorney, David Kurtz. The attorney has announced he has indeed received the subpoena, and will happily turn over the requested information. It may require a moving van. Kurtz says he’ll be turning over some 200,000 documents that he put together while working on the Haegers’ behalf.
Just what is the Grand Jury looking for? Since Grand Jury proceedings are secret, at this point it’s a matter of speculation. However, an inkling may come from statements made by the fed’s NHTSA. The agency told Goodyear it should have issued a recall notice within five days of becoming aware of defects in the G159 tires. The recall was issued in 2022—but NHTSA told Goodyear they “apparently” knew of the defects in 2002—a full two decades earlier.
In a letter to Goodyear from NHTSA, the federal agency wrote, “The safety-related defect is a clear, identified failure that leads to a loss of vehicle control, causing crashes and potentially catastrophic consequences such as death and serious injury.” Since that time, Goodyear issued a statement about the G159 tires. In it, the tire giant didn’t even acknowledge the Grand Jury criminal investigation, but said it had recalled the G159s to address risks that happen when they are underinflated or overloaded. Goodyear continues to insist that the tires were rigorously tested and fully qualified to operate at highway speeds. “No subject tire inspected by Goodyear engineers ever revealed or even suggested a defect of any kind,” it wrote in a response to NHTSA earlier.
More here than just a criminal investigation
Just what the Grand Jury will do remains to be seen. However, in some quarters public opinion seems to paint Goodyear as a big bad wolf. If the company did, in fact, cover up facts, that’s one thing. But for some this issue raises a question: Who really is responsible for accidents, injuries, and deaths from the use of G159 tires? Goodyear? The RV manufacturers who equipped motorhomes with the tires? Or should the blame fall on the shoulders of RVers who’ve suffered a misadventure with them? That’s a subject we’ll take up in the near future.