BEAUMONT, Texas(May 28, 2003) — Bridgestone/Firestone has agreed to a proposed settlement of a Texas class-action lawsuit involving the 6.5 million Firestone ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires it recalled in August 2000.
“From our standpoint, we feel like the agreement is reasonable, fair to all sides and in the best interests of all sides,” a BFS spokesman said shortly after the the tentative agreement was announced May 23.
A Bloomberg News story said the agreement would include as much as $10 million in compensation for the plaintiffs' attorneys in charge of the case, as well as a $7.8 million consumer awareness program that BFS would pay for. However, both BFS and the lead plaintiffs' attorney in the case said the details of the settlement must still be worked out and presented to Judge Donald Floyd of the 172nd District Court in Jefferson County, Texas, for his approval.
“Since we haven't refined the agreement, what we've decided is that the terms of the agreement will not be discussed until the court has reviewed and approved them,” said Zona Jones of the Beaumont, Texas law firm of Provost Umphrey. Mr. Jones added that the court hasn't set a hearing date on the issue, because the parties haven't yet applied for one.
“The most important thing about this resolution is about safety, and about changing the way Firestone makes its tires,” he said. “They're going to change the way they make their tires, and use the best available technology to make a safer tire.”
According to the BFS spokesman, the Texas case is an offshoot of a class action in Indianapolis federal district court in which plaintiffs' attorneys sought financial compensation for alleged economic losses suffered by owners of Ford Explorers equipped with the recalled Firestone tires. Neither this case nor the Texas action had anything to do with the wrongful death cases filed against Ford Motor Co. and BFS on the Explorer-Wilderness issue.
Ford and BFS fought certification of the Indianapolis class action, getting it overturned in the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago and winning a final victory last January when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
“We basically won that case, but then we lost, because the attorneys said, 'OK, we'll just file class actions in all 50 states,'” the BFS spokesman said. “There are about 13 of them now. We won one in Tennessee and got another dismissed, but any time you're going to be in protracted litigation, it's best to try and settle.”
In a prepared statement, Ford said it chose not to be a party to the settlement, noting that the federal appeals court already found the federal class action to be without merit.
“The fact that plaintiffs' lawyers—by simply re-filing their meritless claims in state courts—can extract a substantial settlement from Bridgestone/Firestone is one more example of the need for class action reform,” the auto maker said.