TUSKEGEE, Ala. (Jan. 9, 2003) — Ford Motor Co. and Bridgestone/Firestone have settled a lawsuit in Alabama with the family of a civil rights leader who was killed in 2000 in a rollover accident involving a Ford Explorer and a Seiberling tire. Terms were not disclosed; neither Ford nor BFS admitted any liability in the matter.
“We are pleased we were able to resolve this case without having a long trial,” Bridgestone/Firestone said in a statement. “Although our tire line involved in this case has an excellent safety record, protracted litigation is in no one's best interest. This accident was a tragedy and our heartfelt sympathies are with these families.”
The companies already had settled with two other plaintiffs, Samimah Aziz and driver Ademah Hackshaw. Ms. Aziz, a goddaughter of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, had suffered serious injuries and Mr. Hacksaw sustained minor injuries, according to media reports of the trial.
Earl Shinhoster, a former acting director of the U.S. civil rights group NAACP, died on June 11, 2000, when the Ford Explorer he was riding in flipped several times after the tire blew out. The accident happened along Interstate 85 near Tuskegee, Ala.
At the time, he was part of a security motorcade escorting the first lady of Liberia, Jewel Howard-Taylor. The motorcade reportedly was traveling 80 mph in a 70 mph zone when the accident happened.
Jury selection in Alabama's Fifth Circuit Court in Tuskegee had begun Jan. 6.
In a prepared statement, Ford said: “We are pleased all parties reached an amicable agreement in this proceeding. We respect the right of privacy of the parties involved and will not disclose the details of the agreement.”
The lawsuit had claimed a tire on the Explorer blew out and “disintegrated,” and that Bridgestone/Firestone knew the tire was defective. The lawsuit also claimed Ford was at fault because alleged vehicle defects caused the Explorer to roll over after the blowout.
The lawsuit differed from other similar complaints in that it involved a Seiberling II tire instead of the Firestone Wilderness AT tires that were the subject of a widespread recall by Bridgestone/Firestone and Ford in 2000-2001 and were original equipment on many Explorers.
The tire in question showed signs of having been damaged at some point in its life and had been out of service for up to seven years, a BFS spokesman said, before it was re-sold and mounted on the vehicle the day before the accident. Therefore it did not match the other tires on the Explorer.
A local dealer who sold the tire originally was sued as well, but the plaintiffs focused their efforts on Ford and BFS in light of the dealership's lack of resources, the BFS spokesman said.
Ford earlier had said excessive speed and an old tire contributed to the crash. The statement added that Ms. Aziz was not wearing a seat belt. Mr. Shinhoster was wearing his belt, Ford said, but rescue workers had difficulty removing him from the vehicle and the time required to extricate him contributed to his death.