HARRISBURG – A trial court order that found an alleged tire malfunction-related injury lawsuit constituted a non-suit was upheld on appeal in a Feb. 28 decision issued by the Superior Court.
The Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas' ruling ultimately hinged on the
qualifications of one of the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses.
Plaintiff David Dolby and his wife Susan filed the lawsuit
against Ziegler Tire and Supply Co. and Kumho Tire USA Inc. after trucking company
employee David Dolby was seriously injured in a dump truck accident allegedly
caused by a tire blowout.
The lawsuit initially also named rim manufacturer
Alcoa and Michelin Retread Technologies Inc. as defendants, but the Dolbys agreed
to dismiss those defendants before the trial began.
“David suffered numerous injuries, including … severe head
trauma, eye nerve damage, a punctured right lung, broken ribs and a fractured
leg,” according to the Superior Court memorandum.
The sole claim at trial questioned whether the defendants
were liable for David Dolby’s injuries because they failed to provide proper
warning of the dangers of a retreaded tired.
David Dolby’s employer, Samuel D. Brink Trucking Inc., said
it bought the retreaded tire that malfunctioned from Ziegler, which used a
Michelin-developed process. The memorandum said the tire in question was
originally manufactured by Kumho.
Although the trial court denied the defendants’ original
motion for a “compulsory non-suit” based on their claim that the plaintiffs’
heavy truck and forensic mechanics expert witness was not qualified to testify
regarding the failure-to-warn count, it did grant a later motion for a compulsory
non-suit against the plaintiffs.
“The trial court granted the motion, finding that (the
witness) conceded that he was not a warnings expert, and that he did not opine
that the cause of the accident was the failure to warn,” the Superior Court
The Superior Court said the Dolbys’ appeal asked it to rule
on whether the tire was “unreasonably dangerous,” whether David Dolby’s
injuries stemmed from a lack of warning on the retreaded tire and whether the
plaintiffs had proven to the trial court that the truck driven by David Dolby
rolled over in the accident because of the placement of the retreaded tire on
the steering axle.
In addition, the Dolbys asked the Superior Court to decide whether
the trial court was wrong in “not recognizing and following the malfunction
theory and the heeding presumption doctrine.”
If the Superior Court found that the trial court order was
in error, the Dolbys felt that a new trial should be granted, according to the
“Our standard of review is well-established: A non-suit is
proper only if the jury, viewing the evidence and all reasonable inferences
arising from it in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, could not
reasonably conclude that the elements of the cause of action had been
established,” the Superior Court said in its ruling.