Case details

Driver claimed defective tire hub caused injury-related crash





Result type

Not present

back, brain, brain injury, bulging disc, cerebrospinal fluid leak, lumbar, neck, spondylolisthesis
On the morning of Oct. 29, 2007, plaintiff Raymond Mariolle, 46, a sanitation worker, was driving through Livermore Airport to pick up some garbage when the hub of the right, front tire fractured, causing the tire to become separated from the truck. As a result, the truck’s cab dropped to the pavement and made a sudden stop, causing the suspension and Mariolle’s seat to bottom out. Mariolle subsequently claimed to his lower back from the accident. Mariolle and his wife, Regina Mariolle, (in two separate actions that were later consolidated) sued the manufacturer of the truck’s cab and chassis, Volvo Truck North America Inc.; the manufacturer of the hub, Consolidated Metco Inc.; an affiliated entity of ConMet, Amsted Industries Inc.; and the installer of the body of the garbage truck onto the cab and chassis, Wittke Waste Equipment. They alleged that the defendants defectively designed the truck, breaching the implied warranty of merchantability. They also alleged that Wittke breached the express warranty. Plaintiffs’ counsel contended that when ConMet manufactured the subject hub in 1999, it failed to disclose certain parameters, specifically that it should not be used in high inset conditions. Counsel noted the hub had a rated capacity of 10,000 pounds, which was disclosed, but a maximum inset of 4.75 inches, which the plaintiffs claimed was not disclosed to Volvo and others that purchased the hubs. Volvo installed the hub to the cab and chassis of the subject truck in 2001 and, in 2003, the body of the garbage truck was installed by Wittke. In late 2003, ConMet began receiving increasing warranty returns for the hubs, which were failing. ConMet claimed it called a Volvo senior project engineer in March 2004, informing him that the hubs should either be used with a low inset, and that if it exceeded the limit, the rated capacity should be lowered to 8,000 pounds. Plaintiffs’ counsel argued that despite the warning from ConMet, there was no recall, notice to customers or users of the trucks, or determination made as to which vehicles may be using the hubs. Instead, Volvo only stopped using the subject hubs (in high inset conditions) from that point on, counsel contended. Plaintiffs’ counsel further argued that the defendants had notice of the roughly 25,000 hubs that were fitted to their vehicles, but did not issue any warning whatsoever. Mr. Mariolle claimed that, as such, he was injured when the hub on his truck fractured. In addition, plaintiffs’ counsel argued that Wittke was negligent for installing a third axle to the rear of the truck, which redistributed 1,990 excess pounds of weight to the front axle when the truck was fully loaded. Thus, counsel contended that the extra weight contributed to the hub fracture and subsequent accident by increasing the weight of the front axle past its rated capacity. Volvo contended that while its senior project engineer received a call from ConMet in March 2004 about the hubs, the call did not constitute as notice because ConMet was supposed to call Volvo’s notice department, and not a senior project engineer. Counsel for all of the defendants argued that Mr. Mariolle’s employer, Waste Management Co., was at fault for failing to maintain its vehicle and failing to inspect the subject hub on a regular basis. Defense counsel also disputed the percentage of responsibility of each defendant for causing the overloading of the hubs., Mr. Mariolle continued his shift on the date of loss, but later in the day he complained of severe lower back pain, radiating down to his legs, and went to the emergency room. He eventually underwent an MRI that revealed a bulging lumbar disc at L4-5, spondylolisthesis and disruption of the facets. He initially treated with physical therapy, chiropractic care, decompression treatment and pain medication. Mr. Mariolle returned to work 10 months after the accident, but was unable to drive the truck while on pain medication and was eventually shifted to limited duty. However, it was ultimately determined that he could no longer perform the job functions of a sanitation worker and he went on disability leave in August 2010. In December 2010, Mr. Mariolle underwent a laminotomy of his lower back, which failed, resulting in him undergoing a laminectomy. However, the second procedure caused him to develop a cerebrospinal fluid leak, resulting in another surgery to repair the leak in January 2011. Mr. Mariolle then followed up with further pain medication, decompression treatment and comprehensive pain management. Despite the surgeries and other treatment, Mr. Mariolle claimed that he still deals with constant, debilitating lower back pain, which has restricted all of his daily functions and activities. Specifically, he alleged that he cannot sleep for more than a few hours at a time, has severe trouble walking and can no longer engage in an active lifestyle with his sons. He further claimed that he still requires a multi-level fusion surgery for his lower back and future attendant care. Thus, Mr. Mariolle asked the jury to award $2.2 million in total economic damages and $14 million in damages for his past and future pain and suffering. His wife sought recovery of $2 million in damages for her loss of consortium. Defense counsel argued that Mr. Mariolle had non-symptomatic degenerative changes, which were aggravated by the subject accident, and that the accident caused no new injury. Counsel contended that Mr. Mariolle developed a lower back condition from being a sanitation worker for over 23 years and that his and damages were unrelated to the accident in question. Thus, defense counsel argued that the onset of the plaintiff’s lower back symptoms in relation to the accident was a mere coincidence. Mr. Mariolle countered that he had no prior history of back complaints before the subject accident and that non-symptomatic degenerative changes were common for any person his age. In addition, plaintiffs’ counsel called the defense’s original medical examiner, an orthopedic surgeon, who agreed that Mr. Mariolle was rendered 100 percent disabled as a result of the accident.
United States District Court, Northern District, San Francisco, CA

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