WASHINGTON (Aug. 22, 2000) — While State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance noticed a trend toward tire failure in now-recalled Firestone tires at least two years ago, other major auto insurers are less certain about those tires´ failure rates.
Bloomington, Ill.-based State Farm, the largest auto insurer in the U.S., reported informally in July 1998 to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that it had processed 21 possible tire failure claims related to the Firestone ATX, ATX II and Wilderness A/T tires since 1991.
Other insurers who would comment on the matter, however, said they noticed nothing unusual about Firestone tire claims during those years.
"Allstate was not aware of a widespread problem with the tires prior to the recent publicity and tire recall," said Northbrook, Ill.-based Allstate Insurance Group in a prepared statement. The company "is in the process of investigating this matter fully to ensure that customer claims are appropriately evaluated," it added.
A spokesman for the Columbus, Ohio-based Nationwide Group also said his company had not seen an unusual pattern of failure from the Firestone tires, although it is checking its records. "But we have only about 4 percent of the country´s auto insurance market," he added.
Progressive Insurance Group in Mayfield Village, Ohio, said it was "actually still researching what our experience has been," and a spokesman for Silver Spring, Md.-based GEICO declined comment. "We don´t discuss our data," he said. "We just determine that´s between us and our policyholders."
Los Angeles-based Farmers Insurance Group did not have an unusual number of claims regarding the Firestone tires, a spokeswoman said. "But our subrogation practices are different from our competitors´," she said.
Farmers handles all claims on the regional level, according to the spokeswoman. "Because they (the regional offices) didn´t have a lot of claims, they didn´t notice any trends," she said. "However, now that this has been brought to our attention, we are educating our claims representatives on these tires and will thoroughly investigate any claims which we have a question about."
State Farm´s communication to NHTSA was a routine e-mail, a company spokesman said. "In the handling of claims, State Farm sometimes notices trends, and when we do, we will notify NHTSA and the company," he said.
The insurer´s communications with Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. on the issue were "limited to seeking reimbursement on behalf of policyholders," he added. The safety agency never responded to the e-mail, but wouldn´t necessarily be expected to in such a case, he said.
NHTSA has "a relationship with State Farm where we share information," an agency spokesman said. "We communicate regularly, and from time to time they make us aware of trends in claims they think we should know.
"In 1998, they very casually sent an e-mail saying they had satisfied 21 claims since 1991 that may have involved (Firestone) tire failure," he added. "Half were on the Ford Explorer."
NHTSA´s relationship with State Farm is "probably unique" because of the firm´s size, the spokesman said. "In a recall of this size, we would, of course, contact other insurers," he added.
Meanwhile, in an Aug. 16 media conference call, a Bridgestone/Firestone spokeswoman said State Farm "never made a formal filing with Bridgestone/Firestone or NHTSA" on the failure rate of the tires.©