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Michelin North America Inc., in a Texas civil suit involving a van rollover, moved to clear the courtroom during testimony, arguing that an open court could compromise trade secrets. The tire manufacturer was a defendant in litigation over the crash of a 15-passenger van that killed four people and injured eight others. According to court records, Michelin sought “to seal the courtroom during portions of this trial, to seal the transcript, and to seal selected trial exhibits.” Before a ruling on the motion, the case was settled. DaimlerChrysler Corp., which was also named as a defendant, was not a party to Michelin’s motion. Plaintiffs’ attorneys said such a sweeping motion is unheard of in products liability cases — except when the defendant is Michelin. “Michelin is more recalcitrant than any defendant I have ever litigated against,” said David Perry of Perry & Haas of Corpus Christi, Texas, who represented the plaintiffs. Plaintiffs’ attorney Richard Mithoff, a partner at Mithoff & Jacks in Houston, chuckled when asked to comment on the Michelin motion. Mithoff won a $29 million verdict in July against Bridgestone/Firestone and Sears Roebuck while representing the family of a man who died when his Chevrolet Blazer went out of control after the tread separated on a tire. Tripp v. Sears Roebuck and Co., No. A00482-C (Orange Co., Texas, Dist. Ct.). “That’s very typical of Michelin,” he said. Mithoff said he was involved in a case against Michelin during which the manufacturer wanted all documents it had to turn over placed under seal, moved to have the courtroom cleared, and never allowed any of its employees to give a deposition unless the plaintiffs secured a court order. “Most manufacturers insist on some degree of confidentiality, but Michelin goes to a greater extreme,” Mithoff said. “Our view was Michelin was attempting to cover up a failure to adequately respond to discovery.” The case settled last week stemmed from an accident on May 8, 2001, on U.S. Route 287 near Wichita Falls, Texas. Twelve women were riding in a 1993 Dodge Ram 3500 15-passenger van on a shopping trip to an outlet mall when the left rear tire blew out. The van went out of control and rolled over several times, ejecting seven women. Chestnut v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., No. 155,133-B (Wichita Co., Texas, Dist. Ct.). 50 SENSITIVE DOCUMENTS According to court papers, Michelin’s motion stemmed from the company’s concern that 50 or more documents given to plaintiffs during discovery contained trade secrets it had a right to keep from being revealed to competing tire manufacturers. Perry asserted that the plaintiffs’ experts who examined the documents found they contained fairly ordinary information on the tire manufacturing process. The tire at issue in the suit is out of production, he said. Perry is active in the Attorney Information Exchange Network, an organization of the plaintiffs’ bar. Attorneys in the network share documents obtained during discovery in products liability cases. Perry speculated that Michelin’s true motive for the motion was both tactical and a strategic move to force attorneys in future cases to go through discovery rather than have a raft of corporate documents already in hand. “I think Michelin was trying to disrupt our trial preparation and keep these documents from the plaintiff’s bar,” he said. Under the terms of the settlement, Perry agreed to return all of the documents to Michelin. The tire manufacturer agreed to keep the documents in its files for 10 years. Other terms of the settlement are confidential. Michelin’s only comment on the case was a written statement in which it said it had “resolved the suit to its satisfaction and maintains that the nine-year-old tire in question had no quality or workmanship issues.” The other defendants in the case — DaimlerChrysler and two car dealerships — settled after Michelin, Perry said. Terms of the settlement were undisclosed.

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