Plaintiffs in two shareholders' lawsuits against Bridgestone Corp. failed to make their case that the tire manufacturer deliberately withheld evidence about alleged defects in Firestone tires in order to inflate stock prices, a federal judge in Nashville has ruled.
The cases, filed in January 2001 by a Michigan pension fund and a Colorado woman, had been consolidated before the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee.
They alleged that Tokyo-based Bridgestone and its Bridgestone/Firestone subsidiary knew long in advance of the defects that eventually caused the August 2000 recall of 6.5 million Firestone ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires, but lied to keep stock prices high.
Bridgestone and BFS were particularly aware of the high failure rate of tires made at the now-defunct factory in Decatur, Ill., the plaintiffs claimed. They sought class action status for all Bridgestone shareholders who lost money when the tire maker's share prices fell in the aftermath of the recall.
But the facts as the plaintiffs stated them were insufficient to support their claims, ruled Judge Robert Echols in a 62-page decision issued Oct. 2.
``Viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, 99.94 percent of the tires produced at Firestone's Decatur plant did not experience tread separation,'' Judge Echols wrote. ``Further, plaintiffs cite no facts to dispel the still-unresolved possibility that other facts than latent defects produced tread separation and rollover problems.''
Judge Echols noted Bridgestone/Firestone's refusal to participate in a tire replacement program in Venezuela, on the grounds that the Ford Explorer's suspension was responsible for rollovers. ``The most plausible inference to be drawn...is that Firestone believed its tires were safe and that the accidents were attributable to other factors,'' he wrote.
A spokesman for Nashville-based BFS called Judge Echols' ruling ``well-reasoned and sound,'' and said his conclusions were ``what we've been saying all along.''
George Barrett, a Nashville attorney representing the plaintiffs, said ``the probability is high'' they will appeal.