A federal grand jury in Los Angeles is gathering evidence in a criminal investigation into Goodyear recreational vehicle tires that the government blames for crashes that killed eight people and injured dozens.
The grand jury subpoenaed Arizona attorney David Kurtz seeking all documents and transcripts of affidavits in a lawsuit he filed against the Akron, Ohio-based tire maker.
A letter accompanying the January 4 citation says it was issued in an "official criminal investigation conducted by the Department of Transportation's Office of Inspector General." It also says the Justice Department's Consumer Protection Branch in Washington is involved, as well as the US Attorney in Los Angeles.
Kurtz's lawsuit documents triggered a 2017 investigation of the tires by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. that resulted in a recall last year . The documents also revealed that Goodyear knew the G159 RV tire could fail and cause severe crashes, but he didn't remember them for up to 20 years.
The Justice Department and the DOT Inspector General did not comment on the investigation.
In a statement, Goodyear did not address the federal investigation, but said there are no safety defects in the tires. The company said it recalled the tires to address risks that occur when they are underinflated or overloaded.
"This tire has not been produced since 2003," the statement said, adding that it "consistently met Goodyear's exacting safety standards."
Kurtz confirmed that he received the subpoena and provided copies of the subpoena and the accompanying letter. He said Thursday that he intends to comply and produce about 200,000 documents that he collected in suing Goodyear.
The DOT Inspector General says on its website that its officers have federal law enforcement authority to conduct criminal investigations, including the ability to make arrests, execute search warrants, and carry firearms. “Where appropriate, we make referrals for prosecution to the Department of Justice or to state and local tax authorities,” the office said in a statement.
It's unclear exactly what the grand jury is investigating. But in a letter to Goodyear requesting the recall last year, NHTSA said the company should have recalled the tires within five business days of becoming aware of a defect, which it had apparently known about since 2002.
“Safety-related defect is a clear and identified failure that leads to loss of control of the vehicle, leading to crashes and potentially catastrophic consequences, including death and serious injury,” NHTSA wrote in the letter.
Safety agency documents say the tire tread can separate from the body, causing drivers to lose control and increasing the risk of a crash.
Goodyear did not recall the tires even in March last year, despite investigators finding their failure caused crashes that killed eight people and injured 69 others between 1998 and 2009.
NHTSA made the allegations against Goodyear in a February 2022 letter sent to the company requesting a recall of the G159 22.5-inch-diameter tires.
Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. responded to the agency in a March 8 letter refusing to make a recall but later decided to make one, according to NHTSA documents.
NHTSA had threatened a public hearing and legal action if the tires were not removed. Goodyear later agreed to recall around 173,000 tires.
In its response letter, Goodyear maintained that the tires were rigorously tested and fully qualified to operate at highway speeds. "No tire in question inspected by Goodyear engineers revealed or even suggested a defect of any kind," the company wrote.
NHTSA provided a detailed timeline of what Goodyear knew when, based on an investigation into the tires that began in 2017. It also said the company routinely settled lawsuits and had the information sealed by judges, hiding it from NHTSA and law enforcement. attorneys for other plaintiffs.
“NHTSA was not alerted to the extraordinary failure rate of the tires in question” until documents were released in an Arizona case in 2017, the letter says.
After the recall was announced, NHTSA, which is part of the Department of Transportation, said it was closing its investigation but reserved the right to take additional action as warranted.
Goodyear has said that few if any of the tires are still in use. As of Jan. 13, the company had replaced just 13 of the tires, according to NHTSA documents.
News of the investigation was reported Wednesday by The Wall Street Journal.
Kurtz said he's happy the government appears to be moving forward with the investigation.
"Better late than never," he said.