Carolyn Thome of Montgomery, Alabama won a $4 million lawsuit this week against Wal-Mart, and it only took her three years to do it. Thome was paralyzed as a result of an auto accident. Thome’s case stems from a 2004 rollover crash involving her Ford Expedition SUV. The crash occurred when the tread on one of her SUV’s tires separated. Thome’s attorney said his client was awarded $2 million in punitive damages and $2 million in compensatory damages by the jury. There were actually several companies that Thome sued, including Continental Tire, Sonic Automotive, and Ford Motor Co. The other three companies settled, but only Wal-Mart forced Thome to take them to court. Thorne was driving to a business meeting, wearing her seatbelt, when the tire tread separated and she lost control of her car. Her SUV rolled over one time and the roof was crushed down on Thome. Continental Tire put a recall on her make of tire in August of 2002. Thorne sued Wal-Mart on negligence and products liability theories. She charged that Wal-Mart’s service personnel were not trained to check the tires on customers’ cars for tire problems and that Wal-Mart had a policy of not disclosing recalls on tires unless Wal-Mart sold the tires to the customer in the first place. The company replaced four of Thorne’s tires — but did not replace a fifth one, which she used as a spare, but which was on her car the day of the crash. Thorne had her car serviced at the Wal-Mart after the recall, but she wasn’t told that the fifth tire was also defective. “Their defense was: ‘All we’re doing is checking tread depth,’ and she thought they were checking for safety,” Thome’s lawyer told the Associated Press. Thome took her car to Wal-Mart service center a week before the crash. “If somebody had looked at it, they would have found the bulge and realized it was separating,” the lawyer noted. Wal-Mart’s Tire & Lube employees testified that they weren’t trained to look for tire problems. During the trial, Wal-Mart admitted that it has a policy not to disclose recalls on tires unless Wal-Mart sold the tire. A Wal-Mart spokesman said the retailer does check tires for tread depth. The company said it would not appeal this week’s jury verdict. “I think every time we find an opportunity to improve our policies and procedures we’ll investigate it and if it’s warranted, we’ll implement it,” he said.
Wal-Mart’s customer service left Carolyn Thome disabled for the rest of her life. No amount of money can ever help Carolyn Thome walk again. According to the AP, she has limited use of her left arm, and no use of her legs or right arm. Her business has suffered also since the accident, and she is in constant pain. “She’s a very strong lady and she wouldn’t back down — not even when there was a lot of pressure,” he said. Thome had to spend several years of her life, pay out huge medical bills, and incur major legal bills, fighting this big company — even after companies like Ford had already settled. Anyone reading this who has an appointment scheduled at a Wal-Mart Tire & Lube center, should remember that at Wal-Mart, the Customer is Boss. In this case, the Boss drove off with a defective tire because Wal-Mart did not tell her about recalls on tires it does not sell directly. Wal-Mart likes to boast that its mission is to take care of its customers. They certainly took care of Carolyn Thome.