One of China's largest tire manufacturers can be sued in Iowa for injuries that a teenager suffered when a tire explored at his father's repair shop, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday.
The court rejected Doublestar Dongent Tyre Company's claim that it could not be sued in Iowa because the tire that exploded had been shipped through a Tennessee distributor. A lower court had sided with the company, saying Doublestar didn't have enough contact with Iowa to be subject to its courts.
Continue Reading Below
Justices overturned that decision Friday, noting that Doublestar had shipped thousands of tires directly to Iowa through a Des Moines retailer and many others into the state through a distributor.
The 7-0 ruling reinstates a lawsuit stemming from injuries that 17-year-old Dylan Book suffered when a tire exploded at his father's Adel shop in 2009.
The ruling has national significance at a time when Chinese tires made with an outdated bead are re-entering the U.S. market and causing serious injuries, said one of Book's attorneys, Neil Chamberlin of Little Rock, Arkansas. Almost all of the light-truck tires, like those found on horse trailers, now come from China and are prone to explosion when mistakenly mounted on older rims, he said.
"It hopefully will clarify for everybody in the American civil justice system when these foreign manufacturers of dangerous products can be held accountable here in the United States," he said. "Thank goodness for this opinion."
Book's father was mistakenly trying to mount a 16-inch tire on an older, 16 ½-inch rim for a customer's horse trailer. When he got distracted with a phone call, his son, who worked part-time at the shop through a high school apprentice program, began to put air into the tire and inflated it past the recommended level before the explosion. He was left blinded in one eye and lost part of his jaw, most of his sense of taste and smell, and the partial use of his left arm and hand. Justices noted that his injuries and rehabilitation have involved treatment by a dozen medical specialists.
Book and his mother filed a lawsuit seeking damages for their pain and suffering and medical expenses. They allege Doublestar's tires were prone to explode when people make the common mistake of mounting them on the older rims.
The U.S. Supreme Court hasn't issued clear guidance on when foreign manufacturers can be sued for product liability, so Iowa justices said they would keep their precedent dating back to 1990. Justice Thomas Waterman wrote that the court might later exempt small foreign companies from such lawsuits if "fairness and substantial justice dictate that outcome" but that's not the case with Shiyan City-based Doublestar, which makes millions of tires annually.
"We decline to overrule our precedents to impose a more restrictive test that would limit access to justice in Iowa courts for residents of our state injured by allegedly defective products purchased here," he wrote. "Moreover, sound policy reasons cut against a more stringent test for jurisdiction over high-volume manufacturers in products-liability cases."
Waterman said such lawsuits are meant to make sure that the costs of injuries resulting from defective products are paid for by companies that put them on the market, and "we would undermine that purpose if we closed the local courthouse door to injured consumers."
Doublestar's attorney, Kevin Reynolds, said the company disputes that its tires are defective but declined further comment.