LOS ANGELES – A jury Friday cleared Wal-Mart Stores Inc. of any wrongdoing in the death of a Lancaster man who died in a 2012 rollover crash caused when a spare tire more than two decades old was placed on the vehicle by a family member of the decedent and later failed.
The Los Angeles Superior Court jury deliberated for nearly three days before finding that the actions of Wal-Mart tire employees were not a “substantial factor” in causing the death of 55-year-old William Akins. The Akins family lawyers argued the workers should have recommended that the 20-year-old spare tire be replaced when Akins’ widow, Diann, bought four new tires from a Walmart store in Lancaster in December 2009.
Akins was killed when his son, Daniel, lost control of a 1990 Jeep Cherokee after the tread separated from the left rear tire on state Highway 58, about 68 miles from their home. The two were headed on a belated Father’s Day camping trip to Kings Canyon National Park on July 24, 2012. The spare tire was 22 years old at the time.
A Wal-Mart spokesman issued a statement in reaction to the verdict.
“We continue offering our sincere condolences to the Akins family for their loss in this terrible tragedy,” the statement read. “We appreciate the jury’s time and service in this case and their finding that nothing we did caused this accident.”
Adam Shea, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, said he was disappointed in the outcome of the case, but that he would know more about any possible appeal after he talked to the jurors.
Shea represents Daniel Akins, 27, of Portland, Oregon, as well as the man’s 61-year-old mother and his sister, 31-year-old Esther Pollnow of Reeseville, Wisconsin. The family’s wrongful death suit against Wal-Mart was filed in May 2013.
According to Shea, Daniel Akins’ parents, who had given him the Jeep after his mother drove it for years, bought him new tires for Christmas at a Walmart store in Lancaster. Diann Akins told two employees to keep the best of the tires being replaced as the spare, Shea said.
Shea said the spare tire in the Akins Jeep was wrapped in vinyl and kept in an upright position in the vehicle’s cargo area. He said the tire was never used before Daniel Akins placed it on the left wheel after he noticed the regular tire was losing air.
The tire appeared to Daniel Akins to be in good condition and the family believed employees at the Walmart store had followed Diann Akins’ request that the best tire be kept as the spare, Shea said. The family had bought one new tire in 2008 at the same Walmart store that could have been saved as the spare, Shea said.
Lawyer David Tarlow, representing Wal-Mart Stores, said during trial that government and tire industry representatives generally agree that tires need not be replaced based on age alone. Tarlow said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Rubber Manufacturers Association Inc. and many tire and automobile manufacturers — including Goodyear, which made the tire that blew out on the Jeep — concluded that a tire’s service life should not depend on the year it was made.
Tarlow defended the company’s decision to not have a formal policy of recommending tire replacements after a specified number of years, even though implementing one could have allowed them to sell more tires.
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