NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (Feb. 1, 2002)— Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., its partners and opponents were waiting to hear a New Jersey Superior Court judge's decision, expected within days, on whether to grant final approval of the tire maker's settlement of 32 consumer class-action lawsuits.
Cooper was hopeful in its waiting period after the Jan. 29-30 hearing before Judge Marina Corodemus, quoting her Oct. 30 preliminary approval of the agreement: “Neither plaintiffs nor the court can guarantee a better result for the class if this case is tried.”
Lined up against the Findlay, Ohio-based tire company, though, were about a dozen objectors—including Public Citizen and several prominent plaintiffs' law firms—that claimed the settlement was woefully inadequate to protect the safety of Cooper tire owners.
The settlement promises a free replacement tire to the owners of any Cooper-made tire—including the Cooper, Mastercraft, and associate and private brands—manufactured between 1985 and 2001 that suffered a tread separation traceable to a manufacturing defect. That tire population totals 170 million, according to Cooper and the plaintiffs' attorneys who negotiated the deal.
Also, Cooper—while denying any fault—promised to conduct a massive consumer tire safety campaign and modify final inspection procedures before Cooper tires enter the warehouse. The tire maker estimated the settlement's cost at $55 million, of which $30 million would go to the plaintiffs' attorneys who negotiated it.
Objectors such as Bruce Kaster—attorney with the Ocala, Fla., law firm of Green, Kaster & Falvey—opposed the settlement, saying it let Cooper off the hook “in exchange for a few replacement tires (given out at Cooper Tire's discretion) and a handsome fee to class counsel.”
Yet Cooper noted in its brief that the objectors say on one hand that the settlement isn't stringent, yet on the other admit that the failure rate of the tires involved in the settlement is “dramatically” less than one-quarter of one percent.
“To say the least, it is illogical that objectors are seeking additional compensation, additional manufacturing changes and additional oversight with respect to a product that these very same objectors concede is 'highly unlikely' to fail,” the company said.
A Cooper spokeswoman said the company expects Judge Corodemus' final decision probably within a few days.