Earlier this month, the United States Supreme Court issued a written opinion in a product liability lawsuit brought against tire manufacturing giant Goodyear. While the Supreme Court’s decision reversed a $2.7 million fine assessed by the lower court, the Court ordered the lower court to recalculate the figure.
The Pre-Trial Discovery Process
After a lawsuit is filed, but before the case is heard by a jury, the parties go through the discovery process, in which each side exchanges documents, witness lists, and other potential evidence. As a general rule, a party must disclose all requested relevant evidence to opposing counsel, even if that evidence may be detrimental to the party’s case. A party’s failure to comply with a discovery request may result in sanctions imposed by the court.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiffs owned a motor home that was equipped with Goodyear tires. While the plaintiffs were driving the motor home on the highway, a tire blew out, sending the motor home off the road. The motor home flipped over, and several plaintiffs on board were injured. The plaintiffs filed a product liability claim against Goodyear, arguing that the tire was defective because it was not designed to operate at highway speeds.
During the pre-trial discovery process, the plaintiff requested the results of all internal tests that had been performed on the tire. However, Goodyear was slow to respond and ultimately did not hand over any test results. The case eventually settled for an undisclosed amount on the day before it was scheduled to go to trial.
A few months after the case had settled, the plaintiffs learned that Goodyear had released the tire’s test results in a similar but unrelated lawsuit. Goodyear then admitted to concealing the test results from the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs petitioned the court to impose discovery sanctions against Goodyear.
The lower court imposed a $2.7 million fine against Goodyear, the entire amount spent by the plaintiffs on legal fees. It also put in place a contingent award of $2 million if an appellate court determined that the $2.7 million award was excessive. Goodyear appealed.
The Appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court
The U.S. Supreme Court reversed both awards. The court explained that while a lower court does have the power to issue sanctions against a party that acts in bad faith, the sanctions are limited to compensatory damages. This means that the court could only award the plaintiffs compensation up to that which they actually spent on legal fees after Goodyear’s concealment of the information. That being the case, the court determined that an award for all attorney’s fees was inappropriate, since the plaintiffs would have incurred some of those fees prior to Goodyear’s misconduct. Similarly, since the lower court failed to explained how it arrived at the $2 million figure, that award was also reversed.
Have You Been Injured in a Virginia Accident?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured by a dangerous or defective product, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. While most cases do not involve allegations of bad faith, it is important to have a dedicated advocate on your side to ensure that you are treated fairly throughout the entire process. Attorney Charles B. Roberts has extensive experience representing injured Virginians in all types of personal injury cases, including product liability lawsuits. Call 703-491-7070 to schedule a free consultation with Attorney Charles Roberts today.
See More Blog Posts:
The Importance of Properly Serving All Defendants in Virginia Personal Injury Lawsuits, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, May 1, 2017.
Federal Appellate Court Determines Government Is Immune from Liability for Bicycle Accident Occurring in National Forest, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, April 10, 2017.