Proving Liability for Defective Design and Manufacture of Tire Plugs

In Falco v. Copeland, 919 So.2d 650, 652 (Fla. 1st DCA 2006), Florida's First District Court of Appeals held that the plaintiff in a tire defect case stated a cause of action for alleged negligence, product defect and failure to warn regarding the use of a "plug-only" method to repair punctures to a tire. Plaintiff's complaint alleged injuries stemming from a tire failure. The tire on plaintiff's vehicle involved a tread or belt separation, triggering a tire blow-out, which plaintiff alleged was due to string plugs used to repair punctures in the tire. Id. at 651.

The plaintiff in Falco brought claims against Wiregrass, North Shore Laboratories and Safety Tire Seal, as the designer, manufacturer and distributor or seller of the tire plugs. Under plaintiff's theory of liability, the plugs were used as intended and in a foreseeable manner, however the manner in which the plugs were used created an unreasonably dangerous situation due to the defective design or manufacture of the plugs. Plaintiff further alleged defendants were liable for their failure to warn users regarding the dangers presented in using the plugs. Id.

The trial court in Falco entered summary judgment for the defendants, finding that the plugs were not shown to be defective and that there was no basis for liability against the defendants. Id. On appeal, the First District disagreed and reversed the trial court, finding that the plaintiff had set forth a cause of action for negligence, product defect and failure to warn. Id. at 652.

Evidence presented to the trial court showed that the tire on plaintiff's vehicle had been plugged using string plugs, however, no patch seals were used. Instead, the tire was repaired using a "plug only" technique. Expert evidence presented to the trial court showed that the plug only manner of repair is dangerous, unreliable and could often lean to tire failure. Specifically, expert evidence showed that using a string plug without sealing the inner liner of the tire "can create problems with air diffusion or moisture seepage, and can result in intracarcass pressurization which leads to separation of the tire plies or belts with ensuing tire failure." Id. at 651.

The trial court, in granting summary judgment for the defendants, rejected the opinions of one of plaintiff's experts, criticizing the expert for providing an opinion on the ultimate issue of the case. On appeal, the First District disagreed with the trial court, instead finding that the expert's testimony was permissible under Fla. Stat. § 90.703 (providing that opinion testimony is not objectionable because it includes an ultimate issue to be decided by the trier of fact). Id. at 652.

Falco is helpful for plaintiffs in tire failure cases (as well as other product defect cases), as the First District recognized that product defect defendants may be found liable when a product fails to perform as an ordinary consumer would expect when the product is used as intended or in a reasonably foreseeable manner. Id. at 652, citing Force v. Ford Motor Co., 879 So.2d 103 (Fla. 5th DCA 2004). The Falco court found that plaintiffs had established a product defect claim under Force because the plaintiffs stated a cause of action for a product's failure to perform as safely as an ordinary customer would expect, as well as the defendants' failure to warn regarding the dangers of the plug-only method of repair. Id. at 652. Other courts have relied on Falco for its holding that motions for summary judgment must be viewed in the manner most favorable to the opposing party, without resolving factual conflicts in evidence. Villalta v. Cornn Intern., Inc., 109 So.3d 278 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013).