NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J.-The New Jersey Superior Court in New Brunswick began notifying U.S. buyers of Cooper radial passenger tires between Jan. 1, 1985, and Jan. 6, 2002, that they are entitled to join the class action settlement proposed by Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.
First purchasers of these tires who still have them on their vehicles have until Jan. 15, 2002, to decide whether to join or opt out of the agreement, the court said in a Nov. 19 press release.
If they choose to stay in the settlement, consumers will be eligible for benefits that include their choice of the five-year Enhanced Warranty Program, which includes free replacement of Cooper tires, or the alternative dispute resolution system for those who can verify their Cooper tires suffered some sort of tread separation.
Class members who don't explicitly opt out will be legally bound by the settlement and barred from pursuing any other legal action against Cooper, the court said.
The agreement covers both Cooper-brand tires and Cooper-made private brand tires. Cooper employees, consumers who suffered personal injury and/or property damage, used tire businesses and judicial officers presiding over the agreement are excluded.
Judge Marina Corodemus of the New Brunswick court granted certification and preliminary approval of the settlement Nov. 1, less than a week after Cooper filed it. The judge noted that Cooper and plaintiffs' attorneys had been involved in ``hard-fought and highly contentious litigation'' for the year preceding the agreement, and that it was preceded by extensive discovery and investigation of claims.
``On preliminary review, these factors indicate that the proposed settlement is more than sufficient to warrant the dissemination of notice,'' Judge Corodemus wrote. ``Neither plaintiffs nor the court can guarantee a better result for the class if this case is tried.''
Notices about the settlement will be published in U.S. and Puerto Rican newspapers and magazines right up to the time of the hearing Jan. 29 at which the court will consider final approval of the agreement, according to the court press release.
Fifty-three plaintiffs' attorneys filed suit against Cooper, claiming that faulty manufacturing methods at the company caused adhesion problems resulting in gas bubbles or blisters in the tires' inner liners.
Rather than discarding the tires, the lawyers said, Cooper chose to use awls to burst the bubbles and sell the tires.
Cooper denies all these charges, and admits no guilt or legal responsibility in the settlement agreement.
Besides the Enhanced Warranty Program, the agreement also includes modifications to final inspection methods for Cooper tires and a massive consumer tire safety education program involving all 20,000 U.S. Cooper tire outlets.