Firestone Wilderness Tire Recall Sought
August 14, 2000
By Dina ElBoghdady
WASHINGTON – Legal and public relations headaches tied to Firestone tires mounted Monday as safety advocates demanded a broader recall, South Carolina filed a lawsuit, and a key U.S. Senator expressed “serious doubts” about the handling of the case.
Public Citizen, a consumer safety group, joined trial lawyers in demanding that Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. expand its 6.5 million recall o f 15-inch tires to include larger sizes — which were replaced in some Middle Eastern countries.
The groups charged the alleged defects are related to the design, not the manufacture, of certain Firestone tires, as Ford Motor Co. recently argued.
At least one plaintiff’s attorney suggested that Ford is as much to blame as Firestone for alleged tire failures suspected of killing at least 46 people.
“Composite detail sheets were created by Ford Motor Co. to set forth specifications” for the tires in question, said Turner, a plaintiffs attorney in Arkansas. “Ford was involved in defining what they wanted in the tire.”
The accusations are the latest go-round in a blame game under way between Ford, Firestone, and the lawyers who are suing both companies for their alleged role in crashes that involved tire treads separating from their casings, typically at high speeds in warm weather climates.
Now policy makers are weighing in on the unfolding saga. South Carolina Atty. Gen. Charlie Condon filed a lawsuit Monday against Bridgestone/Firestone, arguing that the company’s initial focus on 11 states with the most tire complaints violates the law.
U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., expressed the same sentiments and suggested that the heightened attention in those states, most of them in the South, might be tied to the media scrutiny in those areas.
“I am sure you agree that all consumers should be equally protected,” McCain said in a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater. “I ask you to work with Bridgestone/Firestone to expand the scope of this recall.”
South Florida drivers also filed a class action lawsuit Monday.
Firestone and Ford defended the scope of the recall and its handling. But both vowed to appease consumers by stepping up production of replacement tires and going to competing brands to make sure that availability of the tires improves by early September.
Ford engineer Tom Baughman said the automaker has authorized 10 tires as replacements for its top-selling Ford Explorer, which carries most of the alleged faulty tires at issue.
Ford has instructed its dealers to replace Firestone tires on new Explorers with other brands if customers demand it.
But Baughman flatly denied that anything related to the Explorer itself contributed to the problem, as some personal injury attorneys have suggested. “We built Explorers over the last 10 years with brands of tires other than Firestone and we’ve seen absolutely no problem with those tires.” Baughman said.
Lawyers and safety advocates paint a different picture.
They say certain 16-inch Wilderness tires, common on the Ford Explorer, were replaced voluntarily by Ford in the Middle East because of similar problems. Some of these tires are on Ford vehicles in the U.S., posing grave dangers, said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen.
“Consumers should not be given replacement tires that are already known to be defective but have not yet been recalled,” Claybrook said.
Ford said the problems in Saudi Arabia were related to misuse — including the tendency to deflate the tires for desert driving without re-inflating them when the vehicles were returned to the roadways.
SOURCE: Detroit News Washington Bureau