WASHINGTON, D.C. - (Mealey's) The U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 11 heard oral arguments regarding the proper jurisdiction for a tire manufacturer that produced a product that allegedly caused a fatal bus accident in France that killed a pair of North Carolina teens (Goodyear Dunlap Tires Operations, et al. v. Edgar D. Brown, et al., No. 10-76, U.S. Sup.).
Edgar D. Brown, Pamela Brown and Karen M. Helms sued Goodyear Dunlap Tires Operations, Goodyear France, Goodyear Luxembourg and Goodyear Turkey in the Onslow County, N.C., Superior Court as administrators of the estates of their children Julian Brown and Matthew Helms.
Julian and Matthew were 13-year-old soccer players from North Carolina who died in a bus crash outside Paris on April 18, 2004. The plaintiffs contend that one of the bus tires, a Goodyear Regional RHS tire manufactured by Goodyear Turkey, failed when the tire plies separated.
The plaintiffs alleged that Goodyear was negligent in the design, construction, testing and inspection of the tire and failed to warn about defects in the product.
The defendants moved dismiss based on an alleged lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to North Carolina General Statutes Section 1A-1, Rule 12(b)(2). Judge Gary E. Trawick denied the motion, and the state Court of Appeals affirmed.
Goodyear filed a petition for a writ of certiorari on July 13, 2010. The Supreme Court granted the petition on Sept. 28. The high court was presented with the question of "whether a foreign corporation is subject to general personal jurisdiction on causes of action not arising out of or related to any contacts between it and the forum state, merely because other entities distribute in the forum state products placed in the stream of commerce by the defendant."
Arguing for Goodyear, Meir Feder of Jones Day in New York contended that the plaintiffs will have difficulty building a case against the parent company because they will need to show Goodyear's involvement in the accident.
"The mere general control that's inherent in the parent/subsidiary relationship is not going to create liability, and here -- important to remember -- we're talking about a tire manufactured in Turkey, accident in France, which Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company -- and now this is outside the record, as I understand it -- did not have any direct connection with."
Collyn A. Peddie of the Law Offices of Collyn Peddie in Houston represented the plaintiffs and conceded that the Goodyear Regional RHS tire that was on the bus at the time of the accident was not generally designed for the American market. However, it was brought to the United States under special circumstances, Peddie pointed out.
"The tires we're talking about are of three kinds," Peddie said. "There are passenger and bus tires that you would ordinarily see that would be sold individually; second, a second category are tires that were sold as original equipment on cars and buses; and third, and the predominant type that were sent to the United States, were specialty tires for so-called low boy trailers which were horse trailers, boat trailers, of which there are in many North Carolina."
[Editor's Note: Full coverage will be in the Jan. 31 issue of Mealey's Litigation Report: Personal Injury. In the meantime, the argument transcript is available at www.mealeysonline.com or by calling the Customer Support Department at 1-800-833-9844. Document #77-110131-003T. For all of your legal news needs, please visit www.lexisnexis.com/mealeys.]
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