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Appeals court orders Goodyear tire safety records to be kept secret

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Appeals court orders Goodyear tire safety records to be kept secret

  • A New Jersey appeals court says there is no public access to discovery documents on the safety of Goodyear tires, despite their public importance.

Sep. 25, 2003 — Documents produced in the pre-trial discovery process concerning the safety record of Goodyear tires must be kept secret from the public, despite their significance for consumer protection, a New Jersey appeals court ruled last week.

The decision reversed a ruling by trial judge Jack Sabatino, who in July said the public has a right of access to approximately 122 pages of customer complaint records on the Goodyear 16-inch Load Range E tire. The Load Range E allegedly suffered from a design flaw that caused dozens of deaths and injuries.

The records were never made public, however, because Sabatino’s order was delayed to await a decision by the court of appeals. On Sept. 16., the appellate court held that the records must remain secret.

“There presently exists no presumptive right of access to unfiled documents exchanged during discovery in civil litigation,” the court said. It reasoned that because the documents were never filed with a court, they were not part of the public record.

“We think the decision is disastrously wrong,” said Leslie Brueckner, of Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, which represents Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS). The consumer group had sought disclosure of the documents.

“The court basically said that discovery documents have to be kept secret even if there is no good cause for doing so,” Brueckner added. “That should not be, and is not, the law.” Brueckner said CARS will appeal.

The case arose from a 1997 accident that killed three Air Force officers and injured three others. Although the plaintiffs have settled with Goodyear, the document issues continue to be litigated because CARS is asserting an independent right of access on behalf of the public.

(Frankl v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.; Media Counsel: Christopher Placitella, Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer, Woodbridge, N.J.; Arthur Bryant, Leslie Brueckner, Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, Washington, D.C.) JM

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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