Plaintiff was severely injured when a large truck wheel exploded after it had been recently serviced by the defendant tire service station. In May 2011, plaintiff and his father brought their 1964 Ford 650 dump truck to defendant Ray Carr Tires of Charlottesville to have its tires replaced. The next day, plaintiff removed the tires and wheels from the truck so that a leaking axle seal could be repaired. While cleaning one of the removed wheels, the two-piece rim separated and exploded. The force of the explosion resulted in multiple fractures to the plaintiff’s right index finger, right middle finger, left thumb and left index finger.
The plaintiff also sustained lacerations and damage to the ligaments and tendons of all fingers of both hands. Each hand required open reduction, internal fixation and external fixation. The plaintiff underwent a five-month course of physical therapy. Despite his best efforts, the plaintiff was left with a significant residual impairment of both hands which, according to his treating physician, would forever prevent him from returning to carpentry, his pre-accident trade. The plaintiff’s treating hand surgeon opined at trial that the plaintiff had sustained a permanent impairment of 38 percent of his left upper extremity and a 36 percent of his right upper extremity. The effect of his upper extremity impairments resulted in a 36 percent whole person impairment.
The truck wheels at issue were manufactured in 1963 and were of two-piece construction. Today, wheels and rims are manufactured as a single unit. The evidence established that these two-piece rims are known in the industry as “widow-makers” or “suicide rims” because of their propensity to come apart, separate and explode with great force when mishandled or installed incorrectly. In this action, the plaintiff contended that the wheel exploded because the defendant installed tires that were of the wrong size and the wrong type, and were inflated far beyond the rated capacity of the two-piece rim.
OSHA and industry standards require that two-piece rims showing signs of rust or pitting by corrosion must be discarded and destroyed. The rim at issue evidenced significant rust and pitting. The OSHA and industry standards also require that rim components be matched to the correct size based on tire matching charts, which OSHA requires be displayed in all tire service facilities. The evidence at trial established that Ray Carr Tires installed tires exceeding the maximum size allowed for the rims. The evidence also established that the defendant’s employees never looked at the maximum tire size specifications that were stamped on the rims.
In addition to using the wrong size tire, the defendant used the wrong type of tire. The plaintiff’s industry expert testified that the two-piece rims at issue were designed only to be used with bias ply tires. Contrary to the industry standards, the defendant installed a radial tire. The evidence further established that the defendant’s employees inflated the tire to 100 psi. The rim was not rated for inflation beyond 75 psi.
The plaintiff called a tire industry expert and a mechanical engineer to testify at trial. Plaintiff’s experts opined that the explosion was caused by the use of rusted and corroded rim parts and as a result of the defendant’s use of a tire larger than the maximum specified for the rim, the wrong type tire for the rim (radial ply versus bias ply), and the defendant’s inflation of the tire beyond the rim’s rated capacity.
Plaintiff, 43 at the time of the injury, had spent his entire life working beside his father in their custom home construction business. Witnesses compared him to a machine and described the quality of his carpentry work prior to his injury as unparalleled. Plaintiff had planned to take over the family business when his father retired. As a result of his injuries, the plaintiff is unable to hold a nail or effectively swing a hammer and his dream of continuing with the custom home building trade is gone.
Subsequent to the accident, the plaintiff became employed with the Virginia State Police making as much as he ever made as a carpenter. Citing Exxon Corp. v. Fulgham, 224 Va. 235 (1982), the plaintiff, nonetheless, asserted a lost earning capacity claim based upon the fact that the plaintiff could no longer work in the profession of his choosing.
Although Ray Carr Tires denied liability, it did not assert a contributory negligence defense. After a two-day trial, a Charlottesville jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff in the amount of $1,000,000 plus interest on $63,000 (the special damages) from the date of the incident. The verdict has since been paid by the defense.
Type of action: Personal injury
Injuries alleged: Bilateral hand injuries
Name of case: Shutts v. Magnolia Enterprises LLC
Court: Charlottesville Circuit Court
Case no.: 2012-406
Tried before: Jury
Judge: Jay T. Swett
Date: Jan. 29, 2014
Special damages: Past medical bills: – $63,000; lost wages – none claimed as accident occurred during recession period during which the plaintiff was not regularly employed
Verdict or settlement: Verdict
Amount: $1,000,000 plus interest on $63,000 from May 7, 2011
Insurance carrier: Ohio Casualty Insurance Company
Attorneys for plaintiff: P. Christopher Guedri and Robert C. T. Reed, Richmond
Attorneys for defendants: Christopher Costabile
Plaintiff’s experts: Aaron M. Freilich, M.D.; Walter S. Laird, Ph.D., P.E.; Tony Troilo, tire industry expert