NEW PORT RICHEY — John Schalmo was driving with his family to his son's graduation from boot camp in August 2004 when he felt a vibration, then a tire blow underneath his RV. The motor home slid down an embankment, across an interstate on-ramp and into some trees.
Schalmo suffered multiple broken bones. His mother-in-law's face was shattered. His father-in-law lost both his legs.
The family sued Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., alleging its G159 tire was defective — prone to overheat and separate at high rates of speed — and that Goodyear knew it.
Their case, filed in 2006, went to trial this month in New Port Richey. After two weeks of testimony, a jury on Friday returned a $5.6 million award for Schalmo and his family.
"We're trying to stop something like this crazy mess that we went through from happening to somebody else," Schalmo, 57, said Monday.
Goodyear spokesman Rob Whitehouse said the company plans to appeal the verdict.
"This was an unfortunate accident and our thoughts and prayers are with those injured," Whitehouse said in a statement. "However, Mr. Schalmo ignored a number of safety issues with his vehicle that led to the accident, including: failing to hook-up the supplemental brakes on the vehicle he was towing, ignoring a vibration in his steering wheel for more than five minutes and getting out of the driver's seat while the vehicle was traveling at highway speeds.
"Also, Goodyear tire experts determined the vehicle's front tire had been punctured in two locations."
The crash occurred on Interstate 10, near Chipley, in the Panhandle. Schalmo, his wife, Kelly, daughter Chelsea Decker and Kelly's parents, Bill and Ruth McClintock, were bound for Houston for son Jim Decker's graduation in the Air Force.
Instead, they spent weeks in a hospital in Dothan, Ala.
Hugh Smith, one of Schalmo's attorneys, said he showed jurors internal Goodyear documents, including speed- and heat-testing results that demonstrated that the tire was improperly approved by Goodyear for continuous 75-mph highway use on Class A motor homes.
Smith said Goodyear is fighting to keep those documents confidential, and Circuit Judge Stanley Mills gave the company 45 days to make its case for sealing them.
John and Kelly, 49, are back home in New Port Richey, where they own a site contracting business. Ruth McClintock lives with them. Her husband, who lived for a time with two prosthetic legs, died two years ago at age 81.
"His heart just finally gave up," Schalmo said.
Smith said this case was the first involving this style of Goodyear tire to reach a verdict. Others have been filed but they settled out of court, Smith said.
Schalmo wanted a trial.
"It was simply to make Goodyear admit that they've got a tire out there that's a problem," he said.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6245.