WASHINGTON—A plaintiffs' attorneys' watchdog group, having reported 19 new fatalities involving Firestone tires to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is calling again on Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. to expand its 6.5-million tire recall.
"With the death toll currently at 174 and rising, Firestone needs to recall all of the Wilderness AT tires it has put on the road," said Ralph Hoar, director of Safetyforum.com, in a Feb. 6 press release.
Safetyforum.com was the source of 19 out of 26 non-duplicative fatalities added to the NHTSA database on Firestone-related accidents Feb. 6. The total of accidents—not yet official because of possible duplications—rose to approximately 6,000 from the 4,300 reported Dec. 6.
More than 1,000 of the new reports came from the files of a single attorney, according to NHTSA. An agency spokesman said he thought the source may have been Tab Turner, the Little Rock, Ark.-based plaintiff's attorney who serves as lead attorney for tires for Safetyforum.com. Mr. Turner could not be reached for confirmation of this.
NHTSA began investigating Firestone ATX and Wilderness AT tires last August, at the same time as Bridgestone/Firestone announced the recall of all 15-inch ATX tires made anywhere in the U.S. and all 15-inch Wilderness tires made at the BFS facility in Decatur, Ill.
As of late January, BFS said it had replaced 6.1 million tires in the recall and had enough tires on hand to complete the action.
Mr. Hoar said Safetyforum.com has documented more than 280 Firestone-related lawsuits since the recall began.
"We know that not all fatalities have resulted in lawsuits," he said. "We also know that we have not identified all of the lawsuits that should be included in our database. This raises the serious concern that some deaths and injuries are still uncounted. Firestone tire failures and resulting rollovers are likely to be a more serious problem than we know."
In a prepared statement, Bridgestone/Firestone said, "Our deepest sympathies go out to the friends and families of those who died in these accidents."
The tire maker said it continues to work with NHTSA to review and analyze the accident data.
"Since the recall, Bridge-stone/Firestone has worked diligently to achieve three goals: replace the recalled tires as quickly as possible, determine the root causes of why a small percentage of our tires experienced a higher rate of tread separation claims and to put systems in place to prevent something like this from happening again," BFS said.
The company did not mention the Safetyforum.com statement, but has criticized the safety group in previous statements as a plaintiffs' attorneys' special interest group with ulterior motives in condemning Firestone tires.
Meanwhile, BFS has posted on its Web site the results of its own internal investigation and that of Sanjay Govindjee, the University of California-Berkeley engineering professor the company hired as an independent expert. (See related story above.)
Mr. Govindjee concluded that no single factor could be blamed for the tread separations that caused the accidents, many of which were on Ford Explorers.
Bridgestone/Firestone also an-nounced it would establish a safety-oriented Web site, www.TireSafety.com.