JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Aug. 2, 2000)—Ford Motor Co. and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. defended the safety of the Ford Explorer and the Firestone ATX and Wilderness tires against the allegations of two Jacksonville families who are suing both companies.
According to the suits filed July 24, William Touchton, a Jacksonville clergyman, and 10-year-old Athena Lingenfelser were killed in separate accidents in which Firestone original equipment tires allegedly separated on Ford Explorers and caused the vehicles to roll over.
These legal actions are the latest events in a growing controversy over the Ford Explorer and the Firestone ATX, ATX II and Wilderness radials. A Houston, Texas, television station began investigating the vehicle and tires after a 1996 accident in which one of its reporters was killed in an accident involving a Ford Explorer equipped with Firestone ATX tires.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began an investigation May 2 into possible tread separations of Firestone tires on the Explorer. The agency said it has 90 complaints on file regarding ATX, ATX II and Wilderness tires on Ford heavy-duty vehicles, including reports of 33 crashes, four deaths and 27 injuries.
Consumer advocates and news sources, however, estimate the death toll as high as 43 over the past decade.
A Ford spokeswoman said the company hasn´t seen the latest complaints and can´t comment on the lawsuits.
"There have been about 25 suits involving the Ford Explorer and the ATX and Wilderness tires," she said, "but the only one that was ever tried was found in favor of Ford and Firestone." She said that suit involved a family named Greenwald, but had no further information.
Both Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone said government safety statistics showed that the Explorer was one of the safest vehicles on the road, and the ATX and Wilderness two of the safest tires. They compared the accident statistics against the production figures of 3½ million Explorers and 48 million ATX and Wilderness tires.
"Customer adjustments regarding the Radial ATX and Wilderness tires are extremely low and consistent with other tire lines," Bridgestone/Firestone said in a prepared statement.
A spokesman for Gary Pajcic, the Jacksonville attorney representing Touchton and Lingenfelser´s families, said Mr. Pajcic will not issue further information about the suits for the time being, out of respect for the families´ wishes.
Despite the 25 suits that have been filed, there is no current talk of forming a class action, the spokesman said. The amount of damages the families will seek "has not even been decided," he added.