SEATTLE — Meineke Car Care Centers paid $12.5 million to settle a lawsuit brought by an Everett woman who alleged a safety inspection missed a malfunctioning tire that caused a crash and nearly killed her two days later, according to the plaintiff’s attorney.
The Meineke franchise at 9424 Everegreen Way told Janyce “Fi” MacKenzie that the tires of her Ford Explorer were checked when she visited the shop for maintenance in April and August of 2016, said her attorney, Lawrence Kahn.
MacKenzie, 56, was driving on I-90 in Montana on August 4, 2016, when the tire suddenly tore apart and she lost control of the SUV, Kahn said during a press conference at his downtown Seattle law office on Wednesday.
She was thrown from the vehicle as it rolled over, sustaining a traumatic brain injury that put her in a coma for about a week and a leg injury that permanently confined her to a wheelchair.
“The corporation that caused her devastating injuries, to this day, has not accepted responsibility for the wreck that occurred five years ago,” said Kahn. “She implores Meineke and all other tire centers to not just give lip service to doing a safety inspection — to make sure that this doesn’t happen to somebody else. And maybe with a settlement of this amount, Meineke will pay attention and make sure, from here on, that they do what they promised they would do. You don’t cut corners on safety.”
Attorneys for Meineke did not return phone calls requesting comment. Court records show the company has denied negligence and other allegations from the lawsuit, filed by MacKenzie in King County Superior Court in 2018.
Kahn said the the crash was “completely preventable.”
There were warning signs that Meineke staff should have noticed, including areas of the 9-year-old tire where parts of the underlying steel belt had begun to pierce through the rubber, he said.
Under state law, a tire is considered unsafe if it has a tread depth of less than 2/32 of an inch.
A vehicle safety inspection report from MacKenzie’s April 2016 Meineke visit says that the depth of the tire’s tread was measured at 8/32 of an inch.
But Tom Vadnais, an Atlanta-based consulting engineer hired by the plaintiff to provide expert testimony on tire failure, reported that those measurements were either inaccurate or never really taken.
MacKenzie received no written report when she returned to the Meineke on August 2, 2016, Kahn said. The company, however, “purported to perform a 23-point vehicle inspection, including a tire inspection,” according to the lawsuit.
Kahn later learned from a local corporate representative that an audit of the Evergreen Way location discovered receipts that weren’t accompanied by the required inspection forms.
“We were able, through our investigation, to determine that Meineke just didn’t enforce these safety inspections,” Kahn said. “They didn’t have a certified tech working at this Everett location. They didn’t have anybody who was really trained to do it.”
MacKenzie’s friend Angela Kelly, who was a passenger during the crash, also sustained serious injuries.
Brynna, MacKenzie’s 7-year-old Australian shepherd, was also in the vehicle. The dog didn’t survive.
MacKenzie spent nearly a year in rehabilitation after she awoke from the coma.
She and her husband were in the midst of a move from Everett to Iowa when the crash happened. But facing nearly $1 million in medical bills, they could no longer afford the home they were going to buy. The settlement money, Kahn said, will allow them to purchase a home in Everett with the special accommodations that she now needs to live her daily life.