WASHINGTON (Jan. 8, 2001)—Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and Ford Motor Co. have settled for an undisclosed amount what was to be the first product liability lawsuit to come to trial since announcing their joint recall of 6.5 million tires Aug. 9.
Meanwhile, two Philadelphia law firms have filed separate class- action suits in Nashville federal district court on behalf of all persons who bought shares in Bridgestone Corp., Bridgestone/Firestone´s parent firm, between March 31, 1998 and Aug. 31, 2000.
The lawsuits contend the Tokyo-based tire maker committed fraud against shareholders by deliberately withholding information about the product liability claims against its U.S. subsidiary.
Donna Bailey, a 43-year-old Portland, Texas, woman, was riding in a friend´s Ford Explorer on March 10, 2000, when the tread separated from the right rear tire. The vehicle rolled over, and Ms. Bailey´s injuries left her a ventilator-dependent quadriplegic, according to a press release issued by Safetyforum.com, a safety watchdog group funded by plaintiffs´ attorneys.
Tab Turner, a Little Rock, Ark., plaintiffs´ attorney who advises Safetyforum.com on tire litigation, was one of two lawyers representing Ms. Bailey. The other was Mikal Watts of Corpus Christi.
Ms. Bailey and her family sued Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone for $100 million. Jury selection in the trial was to begin Jan. 9 in Corpus Christi, Safetyforum.com said.
"The lawsuit was being closely watched because it was one of the first court cases where the role of Ford´s Explorer SUV was the focus of attention as a cause of the deaths and injuries associated with tread separation rollover events involving Firestone tires," the press release stated.
Ford settled with Ms. Bailey Jan. 6 and Bridgestone/Firestone settled with her a day or two later, according to a Ford spokeswoman.
"We are pleased to have resolved this case privately with Mrs. Bailey, and once again we extend our deepest sympathies to her and her family," she said.
Bridgestone/Firestone, in a prepared statement, said, "Our hearts go out to Ms. Bailey. Her accident was tragic, yet her dignity and her determination to carry on are inspiring.
"Every accident is the result of a unique combination of circumstances and factors," the tire maker added. "This makes every case arising from an accident different. Thus, it is a mistake to try to draw broad conclusions about public safety from an individual case."
It is because of the accidents involving Firestone tires—and the lawsuits, complaints and consumer adjustments arising from them—that the law firms of Spector Roseman and Barrack, Rodos & Bacine filed their class-action suits.
According to a release from Barrack Rodos, their complaint charges that Bridgestone made "a series of material misrepresentations" to shareholders involving the company´s fiscal health. The company failed to mention the "thousands of claims for and complaints concerning ATX tire failures" in its prospectuses.
"Bridgestone made false and misleading statements about the effectiveness and integrity of its product design, testing and manufacturing processes and the quality and safety of its products," the release alleged. The Japanese tire maker also failed to disclose the prospective cost of its product failures, it added.
While the two suits will be consolidated eventually, both Barrack Rodos and Spector Roseman seek to become the lead firm in the class-action, according to Maxine Goldman, shareholder relations manager at Barrack Rodos.
Barrack Rodos filed its complaint Jan. 4. Ms. Goldman wasn´t sure when Spector Roseman filed its complaint, or how many potential parties there would be to the class-action. Both law firms have until March 6 to find a lead plaintiff in the case, she said.
So far, NHTSA has linked failures in Firestone tires to 148 deaths and more than 500 injuries. Public Citizen has said that Ford and BFS underestimated the tires which should be recalled by at least 5.6 million, but both companies deny this.