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Below v. Yokohama Tire Corp.

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

February 13, 2017

JOSHUA J. BELOW, by his guardian, DEBRA BELOW, CHARLIE ELIZABETH BELOW, a minor by her Guardian ad Litem, DANIEL A. ROTTIER, and PATRICK JOSHUA BELOW, a minor by his Guardian ad Litem, DANIEL A. ROTTIER, Plaintiffs,
v.
YOKOHAMA TIRE CORPORATION, et al., Defendants. and DEAN HEALTH PLAN, INC., Involuntary Plaintiff, and STAR BLUE BELOW-KOPF, by her Guardian ad Litem, TERESA K. KOBELT, Intervening Plaintiff,

          OPINION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM M. CONLEY District Judge.

         This products liability lawsuit arises out of a single vehicle accident on Interstate 94 near Lincoln, Wisconsin, that injured plaintiff Joshua Below on September 14, 2013. Plaintiffs allege that the accident was caused by a tread separating on a defective tire manufactured by defendants (collectively, “Yokohama”). Now before the court is defendants' motion for partial summary judgment on plaintiffs' failure to warn claim.[1](Dkt. #53.) For the reasons explained below, defendants' motion will be granted in part and reserved in part.

         UNDISPUTED FACTS[2]

         On September 14, 2013, plaintiff Joshua Below was driving a 2005 GMC Sierra pickup truck on Interstate 94 near Lincoln, Wisconsin, when the tread of his right rear tire detached, causing him to lose control of his vehicle and crash. The tire that failed was a “Geolandar H/T-S, ” which was manufactured by Yokohama in 2006 and has a size of LT285/75R16 (“the tire”).[3]

         Joshua purchased the pickup truck used from a local automobile dealer in September of 2007, without knowing when the allegedly defective tire was purchased, from whom it was purchased, or who installed it. Plaintiffs now contend that the tire was installed in 2007 by Huston Motors in Florida, but they offer no admissible evidence in support.

         The parties agree that: (1) the tire was mounted on a rim that was too narrow for its size; and (2) Yokohama warned consumers against mounting tires on rims that are not approved for the size of the tire. Nevertheless, plaintiffs contend that Yokohama had a duty to warn that if the tire is mounted on a rim that is too narrow, then the tire should be inflated to a lower pressure. Plaintiffs also argue that Yokohama had a duty to warn that the tire does not fit on most, if not all, original equipment wheels. The court addresses both of plaintiffs' failure to warn theories below.

         OPINION

         The purpose of summary judgment is to determine “whether there is the need for a trial -- whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual disputes that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). Summary judgment is appropriate when the evidence, viewed in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, shows that there is “no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Cattrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no ‘genuine issue for trial.'” Armato v. Grounds, 766 F.3d 713, 719 (7th Cir. 2014) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)).

         A manufacturer has a duty to warn about dangers it knows or should know are associated with its products. See Lemmerman v. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wis., 713 F.Supp.2d 791, 811 (E.D. Wis. 2010). To prevail on their failure to warn claim, whether under a strict liability or negligence theory, plaintiffs must establish four elements: “(1) existence of a duty to warn; (2) proof of a failure to warn adequately; (3) proof of causation injury; and (4) actual damages resulted from the injury.” Id. at 810-11 (citing Kessel v. Stansfield Vending, Inc., 2006 WI.App. 68, ¶ 15, 291 Wis.2d 504, 714 N.W.2d 206 (Ct. App. 2006)). Typically, the question whether a warning was adequate is for the jury, but “the court can find a warning was adequate where ‘no reasonable jury, properly instructed, could find [defendants] [were] negligent.'” Lemmerman, 715 F.Supp. at 811 (quoting Kurer v. Parke, Davis & Co., 2004 WI.App. 74, ¶ 24, 272 Wis.2d 390, 679 N.W.2d 867 (Ct. App. 2004)).

         I. Lower PSI for Narrow Rims

         A. Adequacy of Warning

         Yokohama argues that plaintiffs cannot satisfy the second element of their failure to warn claim because it expressly warned against mounting the tire to a rim that is narrower than prescribed. Specifically, Yokohama provides safety warnings on the sidewall of its tires, as well as in its published “Fitment Guide.” (Defs.' Reply PFOF (dkt. #65) ¶ 11.) Yokohama's 2005 Fitment Guide states as follows: “Warning: Never mount a tire on a rim width that is not approved!” (Aff. of James J. Kriva Ex. J (dkt. #57-10) at ECF 10 (emphasis in original).) It also states: “Always stay within the approved rim width range for a tire.” (Id. at ECF 13.) The Fitment Guide further provides a reason for the warnings by way of an example:

For example, a P255/50R16 tire is approved to be mounted on wheels ranging from 7.0” to 9.0”. Past experience and engineering practice has shown that wheel widths outside theseranges will stress the tire in a manner that ...

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