By Robert P. Mader
Of Contractor’s staff
AKRON, OHIO— Comments made to CONTRACTOR by Heatway Vice President Dan Chiles got him pulled in front of Federal District Court Judge Dan Aaron Polster for a contempt of court hearing.
Heatway lost in its bid to convince a Federal District Court jury that Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. had manufactured defective hydronic radiant heating hose (March 2000, pg. 1). Heatway has subsequently filed for bankruptcy and announced plans for Watts Industries to take over the company (April 2000, pg. 1).
In the March issue of CONTRACTOR, Chiles said: “... (T)he day before this trial began Goodyear made us an offer. They said, we’ll do away with this litigation, we’ll give you cash, we’ll indemnify you against lawsuits from homeowners and all you have to do is sign this paper and agree that the fault is with homeowners and contractors, and we said, no.”
On March 10 Polster held a hearing that concluded that Chiles had unintentionally violated his order that pretrial settlement negotiations remain confidential. Chiles had apparently consulted an attorney, although not his trial attorney, who mistakenly told him that confidentiality agreements expired once the trial was over, said Goodyear spokesman Fred Haymond.
“Chiles’ representation was false in form and substance,” Haymond said. “In addition to being false, his comments violated the express confidentiality directives of the court.
“Judge Polster, in his March 14 order, declined to find Chiles’ violation of the confidentiality directive willful, and therefore declined to hold him in contempt,” Haymond said in a prepared statement faxed to CONTRACTOR. “Nonetheless, Judge Polster ordered that, because of Chiles’ violation, Goodyear could ‘make one statement, in whatever form or fashion it chooses, in response to the statement by Dan Chiles published in CONTRACTOR.’”
Goodyear’s statement appears in its entirety in the Letters section of this issue (pg. 23).
While Chiles is restrained by court order from replying specifically, Heatway issued the following response:
“We believe our actions speak louder than Goodyear’s words. Heatway is prohibited, by a court order from the federal judge in Ohio, from ‘saying anything whatsoever in any form about settlement discussions ...’
“Heatway calls for Goodyear to join us in petitioning Judge Polster for the removal of the court order that seals the written records of the settlement meetings.
“Who is telling the truth about the settlement? By federal order, Heatway has been silenced. Who wants to release all the records and let the public decide? The answer is Heatway.
“For timely and truthful information about Entran II, and protective actions that contractors can take, please review our Entran II Web page at www.GME2.com.”
Others in the industry don’t agree with Goodyear’s position that the systems failed because of faulty system design, installation, operation and maintenance.
“I think it should have gone the other way,” hydronic consultant Dan Holohan told CONTRACTOR earlier this year (March, pg. 24). “I’ve seen these jobs and I’m pretty convinced that there’s something wrong with that hose.”
Holohan had noted that Goodyear has blamed contractors for faulty installations. “These contractors are professionals,” he said. “They put them in the same way they’ve used other people’s products.”
Holohan said he doesn’t believe that the recommendations on Goodyear’s Web site for actions such as air elimination and water treatment would have made any difference in the failed jobs that he’s seen.
“The door is open for a major manufacturer to point at a product problem and say it’s the contractor,” Holohan said. “They [Goodyear] are flat out saying they would put Entran II in a house. That calls contractors who have put in 10,000 jobs incompetent. These are not contractors doing this for the first time. These are guys doing radiant heat every day.”
Holohan said he fears that if Heatway is forced to liquidate, that homeowners will hold contractors liable.