One fallout from the Firestone recall two years ago that continued in 2002 was the avalanche of litigation against tire companies, including a growing number of class actions.
Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. made headlines during the year when a New Jersey judge approved a settlement resolving 33 class-action suits against the Findlay, Ohio-based tire maker.
The settlement offers a five-year program granting customers free replacement tires-including mounting, balancing and disposal costs-for any Cooper steel-belted radial made between Jan. 1, 1985, and Jan. 6, 2002, that develops a tread separation for any reason.
Cooper admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement. Plaintiffs' attorneys who negotiated it estimated its value to Cooper's customers at $1 billion to $3 billion, but a Cooper spokeswoman said that was only the estimated value if every Cooper tire owner claims benefits.
The actual cost to the company, she said, was closer to $55 million, including $30 million for the lawyers.
Bridgestone/Firestone also was bedeviled with class actions, though it paid out no settlement money because of them in 2002.
An Indianapolis federal judge certified a class action against BFS and Ford Motor Co., covering owners of 3 million Ford Explorers equipped with 15 million Firestone tires, but the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago overturned that certification in May.
The appeals court agreed with Ford and Firestone that the members of the class-including more than 280 distinct tire populations-were too varied to make a class action manageable.
Meanwhile, another attorney-Joseph L. Lisoni of Pasadena, Calif.-claimed in mid-November to have confirmed more than 7,000 serious accidents involving Firestone Steeltex R4S, R4S II and AT light truck tires.
Mr. Lisoni's goal was to get certification for a class action against BFS; to persuade the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to reopen the investigation against Steeltex tires it closed in April 2002; and eventually to force BFS to recall some 30 million Steeltex tires.
There also was a number of wrongful death and injury cases, filed against such companies as BFS, Cooper and Michelin North America Inc. Many were settled, though some brought vindication for the tire maker involved, such as Michelin's victory in a court case in Boston.
Some of the cases were notably acrimonious.
In a case against BFS and U-Haul Inc. in Texas last April, the judge declared a mistrial when he ruled an attorney for Bridgestone/Firestone had breached his order restricting testimony on the three plaintiffs' marijuana use.