WASHINGTON (March 7, 2001)—Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. is "pleased" with a federal court panel´s decision to consolidate 17 pending class-action lawsuits against the tire maker, but a plaintiff´s attorney denounced the move as "wrong."
The seven-judge panel in Washington decided Feb. 26 to grant Cooper´s petition to consolidate the class actions in Columbus, Ohio, federal district court under Judge John Holschuh. All of the cases involve allegations concerning Cooper´s tire designs and manufacturing processes, and thus share enough common issues to be grouped together for pretrial purposes, the panel ruled.
"The motion to consolidate the state class-action lawsuits was filed by Cooper in order to promote efficiency and justice...," the Findlay, Ohio-based tire maker said in a March 6 prepared statement. "We believe these class-action lawsuits are without merit and not in the consumers´ best interests. We are disappointed that our resources—time, money and people—must be spent in defending these lawsuits."
However, Hugh Lambert, a New Orleans plaintiffs´ attorney involved in the class action, said he objected to consolidating the class actions so close to Cooper´s headquarters, claiming it would give Cooper an unfair advantage. Findlay is 96 miles from Columbus, according to the Rand McNally Road Atlas.
According to the lawsuits, Cooper sold as many as 55 million tires which had been punctured with awls to eliminate air bubbles.
"Awling is a cover-up of the underlying defect in the production process that results in a lack of adhesion in various parts of the tire," Mr. Lambert said. "The production process is the problem."
Cooper acknowledges having awled some tires at its production facility in Tupelo, Miss., but says it ceased the practice after discovering that one tire had been damaged. It also denies any defects in its production practices.
"We stand by the quality of our tires and the integrity and dedication of our employees, who work hard each day to produce tough, durable tires for our customers," the company said in its March 6 statement.
Mr. Lambert could not say how many potential plaintiffs were involved in the class-action suits; how many class-actions remain outside the consolidation; or what Cooper´s potential liability is in dollar amounts. Allan Kanner, a New Orleans attorney who has taken the lead in the class-action suits, could not be reached for comment.