Thursday, June 27, 2002
Court Allows Suits in State Against Bridgestone/Firestone
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
Out-of-state tire-makers whose products allegedly exploded and caused injury in California can be sued here even if they did not market tires here, this district’s Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
Bridgestone Corporation of Japan subjected itself to personal jurisdiction in California courts by putting its tires in the “stream of commerce” where it was reasonable to expect they would be bought by California consumers, Justice Patti S. Kitching of Div. Three said.
The tires in question were sold in Japan to Firestone, a Tennessee-based company incorporated in Ohio and wholly owned by Bridgestone, that distributed them in California.
Evidence was presented in the Los Angeles Superior Court that Firestone’s distribution center in Ontario, Calif. receives shipments each month of more than 25,000 Bridgestone tires made in Japan for reshipment to about 850 dealers—of which half are in California.
The judge, Edward A. Ferns, ruled that there was no evidence that Bridgestone sold tires in California or that Firestone acted as Bridgestone’s general agent here.
But he denied Bridgestone’s motion to quash service of the summons in a cross-complaint brought by T & T Truck & Crane Service, employer of the original plaintiff, truck driver John S. Lee. Even though the tire-maker was not licensed to do business in California and did not sell tires here, Ferns ruled, the company directed its activities toward the state by placing an “enormous amount” of tires in the stream of commerce to be sold primarily in California and by entering into a licensing agreement with Firestone.
The Court of Appeal agreed, rejecting Bridgestone’s mandamus petition.
Citing a long line of Supreme Court cases on personal jurisdiction in commerce cases, Kitching said the company “purposefully availed” itself of the benefits and protections of California law by selling tires that would be bought by California consumers.
“We conclude that a manufacturer’s placement of goods in the stream of commerce with the expectation that they will be purchased or used by consumers in California indicates an intention to serve the California market ‘directly or indirectly’…and constitutes purposeful availment if the income earned by the manufacturer from sale or use of its product in California is substantial,” Kitching wrote.
Since half of the 25,000 tires sent by Bridgestone each month to Firestone were destined for California buyers, the justice said, and since Bridgestone officials visited the Ontario distribution center and knew of their ultimate destination, sale of tires in Japan to Firestone could not be seen as random or fortuitous.
The case is Bridgestone Corporation v. Superior Court, T & T Truck & Crane Service, Inc. RPI, 02 S.O.S. 3193.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company