WASHINGTON (Sept. 7, 2001)—Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. settled a Ford Explorer-related case in Texas for an undisclosed amount, fast on the heels of the settlement it made in the first Firestone/Explorer case to go to trial. Also, the Nashville, Tenn.-based tire maker won a victory in Atlanta federal appeals court regarding the release of documents in a previously settled Explorer-related case.
The personal injury suit brought by Mario Gonzalez Sr. is scheduled to begin against Ford Motor Co. Sept. 10 in the Texas state district court in Brownsville. BFS, which also was a defendant in the suit, settled with Mr. Gonzalez Aug. 29.
Mr. Gonzalez was driving his 1998 Ford Explorer near Kerrville, Texas, in July 2000 when a Firestone tire on the vehicle failed. Mr. Gonzalez's wife, Margarita, was killed in the resulting crash and his son, Alfredo, seriously injured.
Only a few days before, Bridgestone/Firestone settled the case brought by Joel Rodriguez in federal court in McAllen, Texas. Mr. Rodriguez had sought $1 billion as restitution for the Ford Explorer rollover accident that crippled his wife, Marisa, and injured him, his brother, Jorge, and his son, Joelito.
BFS said the settlement with Mr. Rodriguez is worth approximately $7.5 million. Ford settled with Mr. Rodriguez before the trial for an estimated $6 million.
In the Gonzalez case, meanwhile, Ford attorneys are meeting with the Gonzalez family's attorneys in Detroit about a possible settlement, a spokeswoman said.
Bridgestone/Firestone months ago settled the wrongful death suit brought by Michael and Kim Van Etten in the death of their son, Daniel. The case has remained alive in Atlanta federal courts, however, because of the ruling of Judge Anthony Alaimo in Atlanta federal district court to release court-sealed Firestone documents to the media. The tire maker is fighting the release of those documents, insisting they contain trade secrets.
Media organizations including CBS Broadcasting, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune petitioned Judge Alaimo for the unsealing of the documents in the Van Etten case.
On Aug. 28, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the decision to Judge Alaimo, ordering him to determine whether the Firestone papers contain trade secrets and, if so, whether the public interest overrides the company's need for confidentiality.
A Bridgestone/Firestone spokeswoman said the company was “pleased with the thoughtful decision issued by the 11th Circuit” and looked forward to showing in upcoming court briefings that the documents do indeed contain trade secrets. There is as yet no schedule for those briefings, she added.
The National Chamber Litigation Center, the legal advocacy arm of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, had filed an amicus brief on Bridgestone/Firestone's behalf in the case against the media organizations. In a press release, the NCLC noted that the tire maker had agreed to the release of most of the documents in the Van Etten case, objecting only to the release of those that it said contained trade secrets.
In unsealing those documents, Judge Alaimo ruled that the filing of any document with a court creates the presumption of public access, and that Bridgestone/Firestone “must prove there is a compelling 'governmental interest' in maintaining privacy of each disputed document's contents, and show 'extraordinary circumstances' to protect the previously protected documents,” the NCLC said.
The center said Judge Alaimo was influenced by “the media frenzy surrounding the Bridgestone/Firestone litigation.” It argued that Bridgestone/Firestone had only to provide “good cause” as to why its documents should be protected, an argument with which the appeals panel agreed.
Meanwhile, media controversy is also affecting the Rodriguez case. News organizations including the Associated Press and the “McAllen Monitor” said they will challenge the decision of Judge Filemon Vega to seal the names of the jurors in the Rodriguez case and to require written applications from individuals who wish to contact the jurors. Judge Vega said he wanted to prevent the jurors from being harassed, but reporters accused Judge Vega of abridging their First Amendment rights, the AP reported.