Ford Motor Company Settles Fatal Explorer Rollover Lawsuit After Trial Began Jury Selection

June 2002
By Lawrence Viele

EDINBURG, TEXAS – Ford Motor Co. and Michelin & Cie. settled for an undisclosed amount in a lawsuit by relatives of a Mexican couple killed last year when a tire on an Explorer sport-utility vehicle failed and the vehicle flipped.

Raul Aguirre Pedraza, 48, and his wife Ana Maria Martinez de Aguirre, 45, died in January 2000 when their 1995 Explorer flipped on a highway near Monterrey, Mexico, after a tire-tread separation. The parties settled the suit Tuesday following jury selection in state court in Edinburg, Texas.

Ford has settled more than 200 lawsuits over Explorer rollover wrecks. The Explorer has been a target of hundreds of claims after U.S. safety officials linked Firestone tires made for Explorers to 271 deaths. No jury has found Ford liable for claims that the Explorer’s design is defective and leads to the wrecks.

The family sued in Hidalgo County District Court in September 2000, accusing Michelin and Ford of negligence in product design. Their suit sought unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Dearborn-based Ford is the world’s second-largest automaker after General Motors Corp. Clermont Ferrand, France-based Michelin, which is Europe’s largest tire company, makes tires under the Michelin, B.F. Goodrich, Uniroyal and Kleber brands.

In January 2001, Ford paid one woman, a quadriplegic, at least $30 million to settle her suit the day before jury selection was to begin in Corpus Christi, Texas. Last July, the automaker agreed to pay $6 million to settle a suit by the family of a woman who suffered brain damage in a rollover accident.

In the Aguirre family’s suit, Ford and Michelin disputed the claims that their products were defective and contributed to the accident. Ford maintained that speeding was a factor in the wreck and the couple was not wearing seat belts.

The family’s suit is the first Explorer case that’s gone to jury selection in which the plaintiffs were not U.S. citizens. In federal and state courts around the United States, Ford has tried to get thrown out hundreds of cases filed on behalf of people injured in Mexico, Central America and South America.

Federal and state judges have rejected the automaker’s requests, and almost 160 foreign-plaintiff cases are moving toward trial in federal court in south Florida. At least 50 more are headed to trial in state court in Nashville, Tenn.

SOURCE: Bloomberg