Florida Appeals Court Rules Against Plaintiff in Wrongful Death Case, Siding with Tire Company

In a recent case, the Fifth District Court of Appeal for the State of Florida issued an opinion in an appeal involving a wrongful death case arising out of a single-vehicle crash that resulted from the failure of a fourteen-year-old tire. The Plaintiff/Appellee, filed as the personal representative of the estates of her husband and their son, suing the Defendant/Appellant Discount Tire Co., a retail tire sales and service store. The Appellee claimed during the ensuing jury trial that Discount Tire breached certain industry standards.

In February 2017, the Appellee’s husband took his truck to Discount Tire where he purchased two new tires which were installed on the rear wheels while the older rear tires were rotated to the front. Four months later, while driving his truck on I-95 at highway speeds, the truck’s left front tire experienced a tread separation resulting in a loss of control that led to a crash in which both the Appellee’s husband and their son were killed. In her complaint and at trial, the Appellee asserted that the left front tire that failed was dangerous and likely to fail due to the fact that it was allegedly more than ten years old. She further asserted that Discount Tire was negligent for having serviced that older tire, i.e., rotating it to the front from the rear, and that “industry standards” called for taking tires of that age out of service.

The Appellee’s tire engineer and failure analysis expert testified that the fourteen-year-old tire failed because it was too old. At trial, another of Appellee’s experts testified about Discount Tire’s internal policy: employees at its stores were not to service any tire that was over ten years old. However, he did not identify any existing standards in Discount Tire’s industry regarding older tires that the Appellant had violated in this case.

At trial, the court granted Discount Tire’s motion for a directed verdict and entered judgment in its favor. However, the trial court subsequently granted the Appellee’s motion for a new trial based on her argument that Discount Tire’s alleged breach of its own internal policies was sufficient, by itself, to create a legal duty.

On appeal, the appellate court held that the Appellee failed to offer evidence to support her claim that Discount Tire violated “industry standards” at trial. The appellate court held that therefore, The trial court properly granted Discount Tire’s motion for directed verdict and entered judgment in its favor. Further, the appellate court held that the trial court’s subsequent granting of the Appellee’s motion for a new trial was in error, as Florida law is clear that a defendant’s internal policies, alone, do not create or define the duty owed to a plaintiff. Accordingly, the appeals court reversed the order granting a new trial and remanded the case for entry of final judgment in favor of Discount Tire.

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