WASHINGTON (July 19, 2001)—Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and Ford Motor Co. settled four related lawsuits in South Carolina at about the same time as the widow of an Alabama motorist sued the tire maker for an accident involving Firestone Steeltex tires.
The South Carolina lawsuits were filed on behalf of Eddie Bostic, LeAnne Davis, Robert Lewis and Lisa Smith in the Cherokee County, S.C. Court of Common Pleas. Ms. Davis was driving Mr. Bostic's Ford Explorer in July 2000 when a tread separated on a Firestone tire on the vehicle. The Explorer went out of control and crashed, seriously injuring Ms. Davis, Mr. Lewis and Mr. Smith.
Bridgestone/Firestone and Ford settled the lawsuits for an undisclosed amount. Plaintiffs' attorney Ken Holland also named Ronnie Burns Ford, of Chesnee, S.C., and Vic's Tire Service, of Gaffney, S.C., as co-defendants in the suit, but neither paid any money in the settlement, according to Gaffney-based Holland.
“We named them in the suit just to keep the case in the county where the accident occurred,” he said. “If it ended up in federal court, as part of a multi-district litigation, it would have been nine years before the case was heard.”
A Bridgestone/Firestone spokeswoman said the company is always interested in reaching settlements in lawsuits that are equitable for both parties. “We do not believe that protracted litigation is in the best interests of anyone,” she said.
Meanwhile, Ella Queen Johnson filed suit July 11 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, on behalf of her late husband, Robert Johnson Sr.
Robert Johnson was driving his 1976 GMC Sierra Classic pickup truck on Interstate 65 in Shelby County, Ala., on Nov. 8, 2000. A Steeltex tire on the right rear of the vehicle failed, causing the pickup to lose control and overturn. The crash killed Mr. Johnson.
The lawsuit charges that the tire was defective, and that Bridgestone/Firestone knew it was defective but sold it anyway. It seeks unspecified punitive damages against the Nashville-based tire company.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation into Steeltex tires last Sept. 29—nearly five months after the agency started investigating Firestone ATX and Wilderness tires, and not quite two months after Bridgestone/Firestone voluntarily recalled 6.5 million of those tires.
“We continue to monitor the Steeltex tires, as we do with all our tires,” the Bridgestone/Firestone spokeswoman said. “They continue to perform at a very good rate, and we are convinced they are absolutely safe.”
NHTSA is expected to issue its decision on ATX and Wilderness tires sometime this month. There is no word on when the Steeltex investigation may end.