977 S.W.2d 328 (Tex. 1998), 95-1159, Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co. v. Martinez

Docket Nº:95-1159.
Citation:977 S.W.2d 328
Party Name:UNIROYAL GOODRICH TIRE COMPANY, Petitioner, v. Roberto O. MARTINEZ and Juanita Martinez, Individually and as next friends of Robert Martinez, Jr., and John Mathew Martinez, Minors, Respondents.
Case Date:October 15, 1998
Court:Supreme Court of Texas
 
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977 S.W.2d 328 (Tex. 1998)

UNIROYAL GOODRICH TIRE COMPANY, Petitioner,

v.

Roberto O. MARTINEZ and Juanita Martinez, Individually and

as next friends of Robert Martinez, Jr., and John

Mathew Martinez, Minors, Respondents.

No. 95-1159.

Supreme Court of Texas.

October 15, 1998

Argued Oct. 2, 1996.

Rehearing Overruled Nov. 12, 1998.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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John B. Kyle, Jack Pew, Jr., Dena L. Mathis, Frank C. Vecella, Dallas, for Petitioner.

Steve T. Hastings, Corpus Christi, Todd W. White, Rockwall, Karen Kennedy, Corpus Christi, Revecca E. Hamilton, Rockwall, Guy H. Allison, Corpus Christi, for Respondents.

PHILLIPS, Chief Justice, delivered the opinion of the Court, in which GONZALEZ, SPECTOR, ABBOTT and HANKINSON, Justices, join.

Petitioner's motion for rehearing is overruled. We withdraw our opinion of July 3, 1998, and substitute the following opinion.

We must decide whether a manufacturer who knew of a safer alternative product design is liable in strict products liability for injuries caused by the use of its product that the user could have avoided by following the product's warnings. The court of appeals held that the mere fact that a product bears an adequate warning does not conclusively establish that the product is not defective. 928 S.W.2d 64. Because we agree, we affirm the judgment of the court of appeals.

I

Roberto Martinez, together with his wife and children, sued Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Company ("Goodrich"), The Budd Company, and Ford Motor Company for personal injuries Martinez suffered when he was struck

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by an exploding 16" Goodrich tire that he was mounting on a 16.5" rim. Attached to the tire was a prominent warning label containing yellow and red highlights and a pictograph of a worker being thrown into the air by an exploding tire. The label stated conspicuously:

D A N G E R

NEVER MOUNT A 16" SIZE DIAMETER TIRE ON A 16.5" RIM. Mounting a 16" tire on a 16.5" rim can cause severe injury or death. While it is possible to pass a 16" diameter tire over the lip or flange of a 16.5" size diameter rim, it cannot position itself against the rim flange. If an attempt is made to seat the bead by inflating the tire, the tire bead will break with explosive force.

...

NEVER inflate a tire which is lying on the floor or other flat surface. Always use a tire mounting machine with a hold-down device or safety cage or bolt to vehicle axle.

NEVER inflate to seat beads without using an extension hose with gauge and clip-on chuck.

NEVER stand, lean or reach over the assembly during inflation.

...

Failure to comply with these safety precautions can cause the bead to break and the assembly to burst with sufficient force to cause serious injury or death.

Unfortunately, Martinez ignored every one of these warnings. While leaning over the assembly, he attempted to mount a 16" tire on a 16.5" rim without a tire mounting machine, a safety cage, or an extension hose. Martinez explained, however, that because he had removed a 16" tire from the 16.5" rim, he believed that he was mounting the new 16" tire on a 16" rim. Moreover, the evidence revealed that Martinez's employer failed to make an operable tire-mounting machine available to him at the time he was injured, and there was no evidence that the other safety devices mentioned in the warning were available.

In their suit, the Martinezes did not claim that the warnings were inadequate, but instead alleged that Goodrich, the manufacturer of the tire, Budd, the manufacturer of the rim, and Ford, the designer of the rim, were each negligent and strictly liable for designing and manufacturing a defective tire and rim. Budd and Ford settled with the Martinezes before trial, and the case proceeded solely against Goodrich.

At trial, the Martinezes claimed that the tire manufactured by Goodrich was defective because it failed to incorporate a safer alternative bead design that would have kept the tire from exploding. This defect, they asserted, was the producing cause of Martinez's injuries. Further, they alleged that Goodrich's failure to adopt this alternative bead design was negligence that proximately caused Martinez's injury.

The bead is the portion of the tire that holds the tire to the rim when inflated. A bead consists of rubber-encased steel wiring that encircles the tire a number of times. When the tire is placed inside the wheel rim and inflated, the bead is forced onto the bead-seating ledge of the rim and pressed against the lip of the rim, or the wheel flange. When the last portion of the bead is forced onto this ledge, the tire has "seated," and the air is properly sealed inside the tire. The bead holds the tire to the rim because the steel wire, unlike rubber, does not expand when the tire is inflating. The tire in this case was a 16" bias-ply light truck tire with a 0.037" gauge multi-strand weftless bead, or tape bead, manufactured in 1990. A tape bead consists of several strands of parallel unwoven steel wires circling the tire with each layer resting on top of the last, similar to tape wound on a roll. After a number of layers have been wound, the end of the bead is joined, or spliced, to the beginning of the same bead to form a continuous loop.

The Martinezes' expert, Alan Milner, a metallurgical engineer, testified that a tape bead is prone to break when the spliced portion of the bead is the last portion of the bead to seat. This is commonly called a

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hang-up. Milner testified that an alternative bead design, a 0.050" gauge single strand programmed bead, would have prevented Martinez's injuries because its strength and uniformity make it more resistant to breaking during a hang-up. Milner explained that the 0.050" single strand programmed bead is stronger because it is 0.013" thicker and that it is uniform because it is wound, or programmed, by a computer, eliminating the spliced portion of the bead that can cause the tire to explode during a hang-up.

According to Milner, Firestone was the first to document that tape beads were prone to break during hang-ups in a 1955 patent application. This application, which was granted three years later, stated in part:

It has developed that in tires of the type now in common use that the grommet of wire used becomes ruptured or broken too frequently at or near the end of the wire splice when the tire bead is forced onto the rim bead seat during mounting of the tire. Applicant has discovered that such breaking of the bead wire occurs most frequently when the spliced portion of the bead wire grommet is located in the last portion of the tire bead to be seated on the rim, and they have noted that when an end of the said wire ribbon was disposed on the radial inner surface of the bead grommet that the break started at or adjacent to that point.

Milner testified that the design of the bead in the Goodrich tire in question was the same design criticized in the patent. Milner also testified, relying on an internal memorandum that was admitted into evidence, that in 1971 General Tire, one of Goodrich's competitors, knew its tape bead design was prone to break during hang-ups.

In 1966, 16.5" wheel rims were first introduced into the American market. 1 Milner testified that Uniroyal, Inc. and B.F. Goodrich Company, who in 1986 merged to form Goodrich, soon became aware that mismatching their 16" tires with the new wheel rims often caused hang-ups that resulted in broken beads. The minutes of a 1972 meeting of the Rubber Manufacturers Association ("RMA"), of which both Uniroyal, Inc. and B.F. Goodrich were members, provided:

Mounting of LT [light truck] tires. Attention was drawn to reports that there have been instances where 16" LT tires have been mounted on 16.5" rims and 14" tires on 14.5" rims. It was proposed and approved to request the Service Managers Committee to add a cautionary statement to RMA documents.

Similarly, the minutes from a 1972 meeting of the Tire and Rim Association, of which Uniroyal, Inc. and B.F. Goodrich were both members, provided:

It was reported that there have been incidents where 14" and 16" tires have been mounted on 14.5" and 16.5" rims that have resulted in broken beads. The Rim Subcommittee of the Technical Advisory Committee was requested to consider some method of marking 15" Drop Center rims and wheels to avoid this practice.

Finally, Milner testified that B.F. Goodrich's own testing department was aware by at least 1976 that a 16" tire mounted on a 16.5" rim would explode during a hang-up. A B.F. Goodrich "test request" of that year was entered into evidence indicating that a 16" tire would explode when mounted on a 16.5" rim at 73 psi (pounds of pressure per square inch). The test request further indicated that "inspection revealed break was at [illegible] ends of bottom layer of [bead] wires as anticipated." The stated "Object of Test" was: "To develop demonstrative evidence & data for use in lawsuits involving broken beads."

Milner explained that the computer technology required to manufacture the programmed bead was developed in 1972 and widely available by 1975. Milner testified that Goodyear began using a 0.051" gauge single strand programmed bead in its radial light truck tires in 1977, and that Yokohama began using a single strand programmed bead in its radial light truck tires in 1981. Milner also testified that General Tire began

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using a single strand programmed bead in its bias-ply light truck tires in 1982. Finally, Milner testified that Goodrich itself began using the single strand programmed bead in its 16" radial light truck tires in 1991. 2 Based upon this evidence and his expert opinion, Milner testified that the tire manufactured by Goodrich with a tape...

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