A Pasadena attorney has filed a national class-action lawsuit against Bridgestone/Firestone and parent company Bridgestone Corp., seeking the recall of some 27.5 million Firestone Steeltex light truck tires.
While Joseph Lisoni promised to send notices of his recall demand to government officials and more than 1,300 Firestone dealers across the U.S., Bridgestone/Firestone said it stands by its in-house ``early warning'' system and the fact that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found no defect trend when it investigated Steeltex tires last year.
Mr. Lisoni filed the lawsuit Aug. 13 in California Superior Court on behalf of Roger Littell, an auto racer who claims to have been involved in the road testing of Firestone tires between 1955 and 1974. According to Mr. Littell, four Steeltex tires disintegrated on his 1999 Ford motorhome.
``If not for my experience behind the wheel, I would have rolled the vehicle and probably have been killed or severely injured,'' Mr. Littell said in a press release. ``Firestone has a serious problem and they know it, because they monitor the performance of their tires very closely.''
William O. Hagerty, identified as a private tire investigator, auto racing team owner and former tire store owner, joined Messrs. Lisoni and Littell at an Aug. 13 press conference.
``In the vast majority of my investigations, the problems were not caused by manufacturing defects,'' Mr. Hagerty said. ``However, clearly, the Steeltex series is a classic example of a defective product.''
According to the lawsuit, Steeltex tires have an inherent ``lamination defect'' that causes them to lose their treads. Bridgestone/Firestone knew almost from day one that the tires were defective, the suit alleges, yet ``actively and fraudulently conceal(ed) and suppress(ed)'' this information.
The suit also claims that NHTSA closed its preliminary evaluation of Steeltex tires only because Bridgestone/Firestone ``concealed the truth...and falsely represented to NHTSA that it knew of no common cause of the failure problem.''
Besides a recall of Steeltex tires, the suit seeks unspecified ``general, specific and punitive damages.''
NHTSA announced the end of the Steeltex tires probe-the last investigation it had against Firestone tires-last April 9, about 18 months after it began. Although the agency had 872 complaints on file against Steeltex tires, it found the evidence did not support a defect finding. It kept confidential the number of Steeltex complaints Bridgestone/Firestone received, at the tire maker's request.
Responding to the Steeltex allegations, a Bridgestone/Firestone spokeswoman said her company has one of the most sophisticated early warning systems in the tire industry, to indicate whether a tire has a potential failure problem.
``If we identify a defect trend, we aren't afraid to take action,'' she said. ``But we're also concerned when folks are out there, unnecessarily scaring the public.''
Meanwhile, Mr. Lisoni has established a Web site, www.firestonesteeltexclassaction.com, which he said will allow consumers to file Steeltex complaints to either him or NHTSA.