New Orleans Law Firm - Capitelli and Wicker

A Gonzales woman paralyzed in 2001 after the car she was in skidded off a wet road won a $32.4 million jury verdict against Michelin Tire of North America on Saturday. Carey Wicker of New Orleans-based Capitelli and Wicker said his client, Drusilla Boudreaux, 54, would receive about $41.5 million, including interest.

A spokeswoman for Michelin said the tire manufacturer contends the accident was caused by driver error and is considering an appeal.

Wicker said the driver of the car had recently purchased two new tires from Gonzales Tire and Rubber Co., which installed them on the car's front axle.

The dealer testified that Michelin never warned it that if a customer only buys two tires, they should go on the rear axle because it provides more control during wet weather driving.

Michelin spokeswoman Lynn Mann said Gonzales Tire didn't get the BF Goodrich tires - a Michelin-owned brand - from Michelin, instead buying them from a wholesaler.

Mann said Michelin promotes either getting four new tires or putting two on the rear axle through its sales representatives, in field support, in its instructional videos and in written communication.

She said the company has even made an appearance on NBC's "Today Show" making the point.

"I don't think that you put a story on NBC's national morning show if it's something you don't believe and are trying to bury," she said. "We recommend that to people routinely."

In a news release, Wicker contended that although Michelin created a policy in April 2001 to put new tires on the rear axle when only two are replaced, it did not enforce the policy because it feared it would lose sales.

The attorneys made this point by citing a test case Michelin did with Costco, in which Costco was prohibited from putting new tires on the front axle. That case, Wicker said, resulted in some customer resistance to being told where to put the tires and a 2 percent loss in sales.

He said that was the reason Michelin didn't enforce the practice.

Mann said that while the driver said she did not ask for the tires to go on the front axle, a Gonzales Tire official testified the driver said she wanted them on the front because he was going to sell the vehicle.

Mann said Michelin contends that while the accident was "unbelievably tragic," it was unrelated to tire performance. She said the company felt it had made the case with its experts that the accident was caused by driver error.

The company will make the decision whether to appeal in the coming weeks, Mann said.

Wicker said Judge Pegram Mire presided over the five days of testimony, with the jury delivering a verdict early Saturday morning after almost six hours of deliberation.

Wicker said Boudreaux, now quadriplegic, has had to live in a nursing home since the accident and wants to go home.

"She can never be left alone," he said. "She requires around-the-clock nursing care … and one of our big goals was to allow her to go home."