Oct. 22, 2002
Michelin Settles Van/Tire Case Rather Than Disclose Evidence
Statement by Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook
Michelin today decided to settle a lawsuit involving Chrysler’s rollover-prone 15-passenger van rather than face the possibility that critical documents related to the safety of the company’s tires would be disclosed during the trial.
As recently as last week, Michelin filed a motion in a Wichita Falls, Texas, lawsuit to bar the public from the courtroom and put a gag order on the jury in an attempt to shroud portions of the trial in secrecy. Public Citizen and the Center for Auto Safety intervened in the case last Friday to keep the courtroom doors open to the public, and a hearing was to be held immediately following this week’s jury selection.
Public Citizen remains concerned with the increasing frequency with which manufacturers are securing gag orders to prevent the public from finding out about product safety defects. In this case, four people died and seven were injured when a church van overturned after a tire failed. The public has a strong interest in knowing the deficiencies in the Michelin tire that caused it to detread, and we believe judges should be very skeptical of requests for secrecy when public safety is involved.
Gag orders in lawsuit settlements involving defective Firestone tires mounted on rollover-prone Ford Explorers kept the public in the dark for years before the danger came to light, resulting in needless deaths and injuries. Courts have a responsibility to give the public access to information in lawsuits that concern public safety.