A Broward County Circuit Court jury has become the first in the U.S. to find Firestone tires mounted on Ford Explorers defective.
However, the jury awarded Carolyn Holmes only $55,400 from the tire maker for the minor injuries she suffered in her October 1999 rollover accident. Bridgestone/Firestone, it determined, was only 20 percent responsible for the accident, while Olson Tire Total Car Care in Pembroke Pines, Fla., was 80-percent responsible because it rotated the tires on Ms. Holmes' 1995 Explorer 18 days before the accident without noticing the defective tire.
Bridgestone/Firestone is majority owner of Olson Tire, which also operates as Tires Plus.
A Firestone ATX tire on the left rear of Ms. Holmes' Explorer separated, causing the vehicle to roll over twice before coming to rest upside down. Ms. Holmes suffered a minor injury to her left hand, and her two children, strapped into their car seats, were unhurt.
Because Olson Tire settled with Ms. Holmes before the trial, the dealership was assessed no further damages in the Feb. 10 verdict.
A BFS spokesman said the company may appeal, but he otherwise downplayed the significance of the jury's decision.
``One verdict in one case will have no bearing on other cases,'' he said. ``It won't change our legal strategy at all.''
It has been Bridgestone/Firestone's usual policy to settle cases emanating from the Explorer accidents; last year alone it settled more than 700 such cases. ``If we can resolve a case in a way that satisfies both sides and avoids a long, costly, protracted litigation, we'll do that,'' the spokesman said. ``But when we feel called upon to defend the performance and safety of our products, we'll do that too.''
Bridgestone/Firestone recalled 6.5 million Firestone ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires in August 2000, most of which were original equipment on Explorers and other sport-utility vehicles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has linked the tires to 271 deaths and hundreds of injuries.
Meanwhile, more than 500 rollover cases have been consolidated before the federal court in Indianapolis.
Plaintiffs' attorneys involved in the Holmes case could not be reached for comment.