ENID, Okla. (April 4, 2001)—Two Enid-based plaintiffs´ attorneys are calling for the recall of all Firestone tires—especially those made at the Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. facility in Decatur, Ill.—and not just the 15-inch ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires recalled last August.
Jill Phillips and Philip Outhier, suing on behalf of four foreign students at Oklahoma State University who were killed in an October 1998 rollover accident, said their own research plus "consultation with a former Firestone tire engineer" persuaded them to call publicly for a wider recall.
"These tires are time bombs waiting to explode," Ms. Phillips and Mr. Outhier said in an April 2 press release. "Only Firestone has the cure, but they did not disclose important facts to the public."
"We stand by the quality of those tires," a Bridgestone/Firestone spokeswoman said of the Decatur-made tires.
Takuya Yamagami of Japan was killed and three other students from Japan, China and Kuwait were injured when a Seiberling TrailRider radial tire on their Isuzu Rodeo suffered tread separation, causing the vehicle to roll over. Ms. Phillips and Mr. Outhier filed suit on behalf of these students Oct. 4 in the District Court of Oklahoma County.
The Kuwaiti parents of a fifth passenger in the vehicle, who also was killed in the crash, chose not to join the suit.
Ms. Phillips and Mr. Outhier cited not only the reports of labor unrest and manufacturing variances at Decatur, but also the independent report prepared for Bridgestone/Firestone by Sanjay Govindjee of the University of California at Berkeley, as reasons for demanding the recall of all Decatur-made tires.
"Tire experts...agree that besides hot weather as a primary factor in the tire failure, other factors including tire design and manufacturing inconsistencies, especially at the Decatur plant, are evident," their press release stated. "Among the findings, the skim stock of rubber between the steel belts of the tires did not have enough adhesion to hold together. It is the 1/32-inch thickness of rubber placed around the steel belts that caused splitting."
Contacted at his Enid office, Mr. Outhier insisted the Govindjee report was particularly damning. "After the Govindjee report, I think we have to look carefully at any thing coming out of Decatur," he said.
Ms. Phillips and Mr. Outhier also took issue with BFS for not placing nylon cap plies on all its tires. "These tire failures could have been avoided at a cost of approximately $1-2 per tire," Ms. Phillips said.
Mr. Outhier said the fact that the Seiberling tire was a replacement tire, and not original equipment, indicates that a broader recall is imperative.
"Most of the tires in the recall were tied to contracts with auto companies," he said. "That this tire failed indicates not only that the tires Firestone sold to OE were bad, but that their aftermarket tires are too."
Recalling all the Decatur-made tires would be both wrong and counterproductive, the BFS spokeswoman insisted.
"When we conducted our technical analysis, we confirmed—as did (Mr.) Govindjee and Ford—that the problem was a combination of factors, and not a matter of one thing going wrong," she said. "This was a tragic accident, but all accidents occur for different reasons, and the reason for this accident can only be determined in a court of law."
Mr. Outhier declined to name the former Firestone engineer he and Ms. Phillips used as an expert consultant, citing reasons of confidentiality. They plan to reveal the engineer´s name shortly, when the confidentiality concerns become moot, he added.
The recall BFS announced Aug. 9 covered all 15-inch Firestone ATX and ATX II tires, as well as 15-inch Wilderness tires from the Decatur plant only. The total tire population in the recall was 14.4 million, of which the tire maker estimated that 6.5 million were still on the road.
As of January, BFS said it had replaced 5.5 million tires and had enough replacement tires to serve all remaining customers affected by the recall.
A number of groups—including the Center for Auto Safety and the plaintiffs´ attorney Web site Safetyforum.com—have called for a wider recall, as well as for nylon cap plies to be placed on all tires. Bridgestone/Firestone has consistently said both actions are unnecessary.