Woodward v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc.

Citation858 N.E.2d 897,306 Ill.Dec. 839
Decision Date17 August 2006
Docket NumberNo. 5-05-0379.,5-05-0379.
PartiesPeter WOODWARD and Barbara Woodward, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. BRIDGESTONE/FIRESTONE, INC., Ford Motor Company, and Bridgestone Corporation, Defendants-Appellants.
CourtUnited States Appellate Court of Illinois
858 N.E.2d 897
306 Ill.Dec. 839
Peter WOODWARD and Barbara Woodward, Plaintiffs-Appellees,
BRIDGESTONE/FIRESTONE, INC., Ford Motor Company, and Bridgestone Corporation, Defendants-Appellants.
No. 5-05-0379.
Appellate Court of Illinois, Fifth District.
August 17, 2006.

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Michael J. Kanute, Jennifer E. Miller, Holland & Knight, LLC, Chicago, Larry E. Hepler, Burroughs, Hepler, Broom, MacDonald & Hebrank, Edwardsville, for Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc.

Fred E. Schulz, Wildman, Harrold, Allen & Dixon, LLP, Chicago, Michael J. Nester, Donovan, Rose, Nester & Joley, P.C., Belleville, for Bridgestone Corp.

John J. Krivicich, Karen Kies DeGrand, Charles S. Ofstein, Donohue Brown Mathewson & Smyth LLC, Chicago, Craig Unrath, Robert H. Shultz, Jr., Heyl, Royster, Voelker & Allen, P.C., Edwardsville, for Ford Motor Company.

Brad Friedman, Anne Marie Vu, Milberg Weiss Bershad & Schulman LLP, New York, NY, Mark C. Goldenberg, Elizabeth V. Heller, Goldenberg, Miller, Heller & Antognoli, P.C., Edwardsville, for Appellees.

Justice HOPKINS delivered the opinion of the court:

The plaintiffs, Peter and Barbara Woodward, filed a products-liability action in the circuit court of Madison County against the defendants, Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc. (Bridgestone/Firestone), Ford Motor Company (Ford), and Bridgestone Corp. (Bridgestone), as a result of a vehicle accident that occurred in Australia. The defendants appeal the circuit court's order transferring this case from Madison County to Macon County, Illinois, on the grounds of forum non conveniens. The defendants contend that the proper forum for this case is Australia. We affirm.

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On November 15, 2001, the plaintiffs, who are Australian citizens, alleged claims of negligence, strict liability, misrepresentation, and willful and wanton conduct against the defendants for injuries Peter sustained in a vehicle accident and for Barbara's loss of consortium. The plaintiffs alleged that on November 16, 1999, while Peter was driving along a highway in Australia, his Firestone tire delaminated, Peter lost control of the Ford Explorer he was driving, and the Explorer rolled over and was struck by another vehicle. Peter's passenger was killed, and Peter was thrown from the Explorer and suffered injuries. Because Peter was unable to work after the accident, his once successful electric services company suffered severe financial hardship.

The plaintiffs alleged that the accident resulted from the combination of a defective rollover-and-roof-crush-prone Ford Explorer and a defective Firestone tire. Peter's Ford Explorer was manufactured in St. Louis, Missouri. Peter's Firestone tire was manufactured in August 1996 by Bridgestone/Firestone at the Firestone production plant formerly operated in Macon County, Illinois. At the time the plaintiffs filed their complaint, similar Firestone tires produced at the Macon County plant were the subject of a voluntary recall.

Bridgestone is a Japanese corporation with its principal place of business in Tokyo, Japan. Bridgestone is the parent company of its wholly owned subsidiary, Bridgestone/Firestone. Bridgestone/Firestone is a United States corporation formed after Bridgestone acquired Firestone Tire and Rubber Company in 1988. Bridgestone/Firestone was organized under the laws of Ohio and maintains its principal executive offices in Tennessee. Ford is also a United States corporation, was organized under the laws of Delaware, and maintains its principal executive offices in Michigan. Bridgestone/Firestone and Ford do business in Macon County, as well as throughout the State of Illinois.

In interrogatory responses, the plaintiffs disclosed 29 potential Australian witnesses, including occurrence witnesses, police, and physicians. Two of the eyewitnesses, Steven Arthur Ken Dau and Kym Allen Wright, were involved in a second collision that occurred after the initial rollover. Dau arrived at the scene shortly after the rollover and flashed his vehicle's high-beam headlights at oncoming traffic as a warning that the plaintiffs' vehicle was stopped on the roadway. Wright thereafter struck the plaintiffs' vehicle.

On March 14, 2002, Firestone and Ford filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds of forum non conveniens, and Bridgestone joined the motion on January 7, 2003. The defendants alleged that the plaintiffs were residents of Australia, that Peter's business purchased and regularly serviced the Ford Explorer at a Ford dealer in Australia, that the accident occurred in Australia, and that the case had no connection with Madison County, the State of Illinois, or the United States.

In their memorandum in opposition to the defendants' motion to dismiss, the plaintiffs asserted that their claims arose from the defendants' design, manufacture, testing, and failure to recall the defective tires and vehicles and that these actions occurred at various locations in the United States. The plaintiffs listed "key witnesses" in Illinois (employees, from the closed Firestone Decatur (Macon County, Illinois) plant that manufactured the tire that resulted in Peter's injuries, who could testify to manufacturing problems at the plant and directions received at the plant from Bridgestone's visiting advisors); in California (Professor Sanjay Govinjee, materials

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science professor whom Firestone publicly hired to examine and report root causes of tire failure); in Florida (former manager of Firestone's Macon County, Illinois, plant); in Ohio (technical employees of Firestone's technical center, employees who reported testing and survey results that tread separations were increasing, employees familiar with belt-gauge reduction, defense experts who examined the tire in question, employees involved in the design and testing of the tire, and Firestone employees with whom Ford contracted to do J-turn simulation testing of the Explorer's stability); in Tennessee (Firestone statisticians and executives who monitored tire adjustment data on increased tread separations and made recall decisions); in Michigan (Ford statisticians who monitored and analyzed rollover data, Ford technical employees who tested Explorers, Ford technical personnel who recommended fixes for the Explorer's rollover propensity that were not adopted by Ford, Ford employees who made decisions not to widen the Explorer chassis and thereby minimize the rollover problem, and Ford personnel involved in arranging for lower tire pressure recommendations that exacerbated the tire-delaminating problem); in Georgia (the plaintiffs' tire expert who examined the tire in question); and in Arizona (the location where Ford asked the plaintiffs to send the tire in question for examination by its expert).

The plaintiffs also asserted that relevant defense documents numbered in the millions and were maintained in document depositories in the United States. The plaintiffs asserted that the defendants' expert in Ohio was inspecting the tire at issue and had not yet returned it. (The record indicates that the tire was shipped from Tire Consultants, Inc., in Georgia, to James Hicks, of the product-analysis department of Bridgestone in Ohio, per instructions from a New York firm.) The plaintiffs noted that the Ford Explorer was sold for scrap and was no longer in existence.

A hearing on the defendants' motion to dismiss was held on May 26, 2005. At the hearing, the circuit court stated that the case had no connection to Madison County, but the court requested that the plaintiffs state their choice of forum for a transfer. The plaintiffs' choice was Macon County, Illinois. The circuit court then entered its order transferring this case to the circuit court of Macon County, Illinois.

On June 27, 2005, the defendants petitioned this court for leave to appeal, and on August 3, 2005, this court denied the defendants' petition. On December 1, 2005, the Illinois Supreme Court, in the exercise of its supervisory authority, directed this court to vacate its August 3, 2005, order and allow the defendants' petition for leave to appeal. Woodward v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc., 217 Ill.2d 595, 297 Ill.Dec. 516, 838 N.E.2d 3 (2005). On December 28, 2005, this court granted the defendants' petition for leave to appeal pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 306(a) (Official Reports Advance Sheet No. 26 (December 24, 2003), R. 306(a), eff. January 1, 2004).


On appeal, the defendants argue that the circuit court abused its discretion in transferring this dispute to Macon County, Illinois. The defendants argue that Australia, not Macon County, is the most convenient forum to try this case.

The Illinois venue statute provides that an action must be commenced (1) in the county of residence of any defendant who is joined in good faith and with probable cause for the purpose of obtaining a judgment against that defendant and not solely for the purpose of fixing venue in

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that county or (2) in the county in which the transaction or some part thereof occurred out of which the cause of action arose. 735 ILCS 5/2-101 (West 2004). If more than one potential forum exists, the court may invoke the doctrine of forum non conveniens to determine the most appropriate forum. Dawdy v. Union Pacific R.R. Co., 207 Ill.2d 167, 171, 278 Ill.Dec. 92, 797 N.E.2d 687 (2003).

Forum non conveniens is an equitable doctrine founded in considerations of fundamental fairness and sensible and effective judicial administration and allows a circuit court to decline jurisdiction in the exceptional case where a trial in another forum with proper jurisdiction and venue would better serve the ends of justice. First American Bank v. Guerine, 198 Ill.2d 511, 515, 261 Ill.Dec. 763, 764 N.E.2d 54 (2002). "The trial court is vested with considerable discretion in its determination of whether transfer is warranted on the basis of forum non conveniens princ...

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