Back in 2009 the Obama administration imposed a tariff on the import of Chinese tires. The tariff was imposed because China was dumping huge quantities of cheap steel belted radials into the U.S. market to try to capture market share from domestic tire makers. The tariff, which expires today, has been viewed by consumer advocates as a very good thing for consumer safety.
As with other consumer products (think lead based paint in child toys, remember that fiasco?) China does not have the same ‘Rules of the Road’ that we do in the States when it comes to consumer protection and product safety. Don’t have the same regulations, standards, guidelines, or — hold on to your hats — civil justice laws. Yep, you heard me. The “T” word — Torts. If you’re injured by a defective Chinese product good luck holding the company accountable. Sure you can file a product liability action against them here in the States but it’s almost impossible to serve them, much less ever execute on a judgment. We’ve drilled down into this issue several times in the past and while theoretically possible, in practice you just can’s enforce a judgment against a Chinese manufacturer.
We had a case a few years back involving a defective tire valve stem. Our client’s husband died while driving his SUV down the highway. A valve stem on one of his tires failed causing sudden loss of air pressure. As a result he lost control, rolled over, and died. Case was particularly tragic because it involved a young married couple pregnant with their first child.
The defect was clear: the valve stem had been made with defective rubber which didn’t contain sufficient levels of anti-oxidant chemicals. Turns out they were made in China by a Chinese owned manufacturer. After conducting exhaustive research our worst fears were confirmed: first, it would be almost impossible to serve them with a complaint. Second, discovery of even basic design documents or corporate rep deposition testimony was not going to happen. And third, enforcing a judgment in China was logistically impossible.
We ended up filing suit against a small company in North Carolina that imported the valve stems. NHTSA also got involved with the net result being a recall of millions of defective valve stems. But the Chinese manufacturer? Didn’t pay a dime, never held accountable.
President Obama is campaigning in Ohio today and many of us had hoped he might announce an extension of the tariff. Word on the street, however, is that because of WTO rules the White House has decided not to extend the tariff and it will, in fact, expire today.
So. Expect an infusion of cheap Chinese steel belted radials. That’s going to happen immediately when the tariff expires. And you heard it here first: tread separations and high speed crashes are soon to follow.