TALLAHASSEE, Fla.-The attorneys general of at least six states may soon file suit against Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and Ford Motor Co. for alleged unfair and deceptive trade practices, according to Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth.
Florida-along with Tennessee, Texas, Georgia, Connecticut and Wisconsin-has been among a core group of states in a working group of 38 state attorneys general which formed last September to investigate BFS' recall of 6.5 million Firestone ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires.
In particular, the states wanted to discover whether Ford and BFS deliberately misled consumers into accepting defective tires.
Most of the tires recalled last Aug. 9 were original equipment on the Ford Explorer and other Ford sport-utility vehicles.
The investigation is ongoing, but a multistate lawsuit is likely to be filed sometime in the near future, Mr. Butterworth said at a May 2 press conference in Tallahassee.
``With what information we have, both Ford and Firestone knew they had a problem and yet they continued to sell a product,'' Mr. Butterworth was quoted as saying in Florida newspapers. ``We believe they knew about the problem and they continued to sell the tires.''
He also made slighting references to BFS' ``Make It Right'' campaign to restore consumer confidence.
``Firestone has these nice, fuzzy ads running, saying, `We care about you, we care about the quality of your tires,' '' he said. ``That does not make the quality of the tire on your SUV any better.''
It's possible that Florida will file a ``unilateral'' complaint about Ford and BFS, said a spokesman for Mr. Butterworth's office. But it is more likely that several states, particularly the core group, will sue in unison.
One state, South Carolina, sued BFS in September, angry that the Nashville-based tire maker had not included South Carolina in its original priority list of states to receive replacements for the recalled tires. Officials from New Mexico and other states also complained that their motorists were being slighted in the recall. Shortly after, BFS modified the priority system.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been running an investigation of Firestone tires concurrent with the recall, and is expected to announce the results this summer. Meanwhile, the agency lists 174 deaths associated with accidents involving Firestone tires on its Web site. Consumer watchdog group Public Citizen says it knows of at least 10 more deaths based on its research on personal injury suits involving BFS.
More than 200 lawsuits have been filed against BFS, and estimates of how many suits the tire maker has settled run as high as 100.
In a prepared statement attributed to General Counsel Saul Solomon, BFS noted that it has cooperated with the attorneys generals' investigation since its inception. ``We will continue to cooperate with them on all serious and relevant regulatory issues,'' Mr. Solomon said.