Missouri Lawsuit Highlights Issue of Modified Taillights

February 5, 2013

A lawsuit recently heard in St. Louis County highlights concerns about a range of products used to modify factory-issued taillights.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Clayton Wood of Defiance, Mo., was paralyzed from the waist down after his motorcycle struck the back of Clayton Robinson’s 1978 Chevrolet pickup in 2010. The lawsuit alleged that taillight-dimming paint was a factor, and sought $28 million in damages from Sherwin-Williams, the maker of “Nite-Shades” that was used to tint Robinson’s taillights.

The jury ruled Thursday in favor of Sherwin-Williams. But Robinson and other defendants have already settled out of court with Wood for a combined $1.8 million, according to records.

The suit said taillight embellishments, such as tints, stickers, covers and paint, are becoming more and more common and dangerous, even if Sherwin-Williams said the tint is for off-road use only.

“The last thing I would want is for everyone to think this (verdict) is a green light – that it’s OK to black out your taillights,” Wood’s attorney, John Medler, said. “If anything, I hope this is a cautionary tale. If you black out your taillights, you could leave someone with serious bodily injury.”

Missouri law requires that a vehicle’s “tail lamps” be red and visible from 500 feet – a typical standard across the country. Robinson’s truck passed state inspection four days before the wreck on Highway 109 in St. Louis County. Medler argued the truck would not have passed if a friend of Robinson’s hadn’t approved it.

Medler sought testimony from a Sherwin-Williams company representative who acknowledged normal use of the product would reduce brake lights’ shine by 50 percent or more. The attorney for the paint company, Steven Holden, argued there was no was evidence the paint dims lights to an illegal level but sales materials include warnings to discourage on-road use.

Holden said Wood’s crash was the first report of an accident related to the product in its 30-year history.

Lt. John Hotz of the Missouri State Highway Patrol said state inspection stations are instructed to reject a vehicle if the taillights are obstructed or are not the required color. But the law does not address the nuances of tinting products.

The shop Tint Tech in Maplewood is seeing increasing demand for the polyurethane film it sells and installs for taillights, said Amber Pulley, who owns the shop with her husband. But she wouldn’t trust customers to do it on their own.

“Even if it is a product designed for taillights, it can be used improperly,” she said.

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