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Compelling Discovery from a Manufacturer in a Texas Product Liability Case

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In re Michelin North America, Inc. is a recent product liability case. The case arose when a woman driving a 2013 Ford Explorer was hit by Robert Coleman’s Ford F250 pickup. The pickup crossed the center line when its left front tire failed, and it crashed into the Explorer, killing the woman. The driver of the pickup and his passengers were seriously injured.

The woman’s heir filed a wrongful death lawsuit, alleging negligence and strict product liability against Michelin and a negligence claim against the driver of the pickup. The pickup driver filed a petition to intervene in the wrongful death lawsuit against Michelin.

The tire at issue was manufactured at a Michelin plant in 2011. The pickup driver claimed the tread peeled off the left front tire, and it lost air quickly because of tread separation, resulting in the pickup driver losing control. Before filing suit, the pickup driver’s attorney asked that specified evidence be preserved. The pickup driver’s attorney made several discovery requests to Michelin, which objected and claimed trade secret privilege, among other things. The court granted the pickup driver’s motion to compel access. The order allowed videotaping, limited to an hour.

Michelin filed for a writ of mandamus, arguing that it was an abuse of discretion for the trial court to compel Michelin to allow the pickup driver access to the tire building machines that were used to manufacture the tire at issue.

The appellate court explained that Rule 196.7 covers discovery that involves going onto another party’s property to inspect, photograph, test, or conduct other operations. The discovery must be relevant. The court considers evidence relevant if it tends to make a material fact’s existence more or less probable than it would be without the evidence. Discovery requests are supposed to be tailored to get information that helps resolve the dispute. Since entry onto someone’s property is disruptive, the court balances the needs of a party against the burdens created by the entry and inspection.

In this case, Michelin presented evidence by an employee that established the tire building machines used to make the tire were modified substantially since 2011 to provide the capability of fabricating larger, more complicated tires. The machines that related to the discovery request were producing different types of tires than the one at issue.

The court found that videography would disrupt operations at the plant and that because different types of tires were being manufactured it was not necessarily relevant. The affidavit also noted that 12 machines would have to be idle for the inspection to take place and that the manager wouldn’t be able to do his job during the inspection. Accordingly, Michelin would lose tens of thousands of dollars and the production of 1,000 tires. The burden placed on Michelin for the inspection would outweigh the benefits to the pickup truck driver.

The appellate court concluded that it was an abuse of discretion to order the tire manufacturer to give the pickup driver access to the two machines at the plant and that this error couldn’t be fixed through an appeal. Therefore, the writ of mandamus was conditionally granted, and the trial court was ordered to vacate the motion to compel order.

If you are hurt due to a defective product, the experienced San Antonio product liability attorneys at Carabin & Shaw may be able to represent you and develop a sound strategy for handling your case. Call our office for more information at 1-800-862-1260.

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