A Special Report: St. Petersbrg Times Deadly Combination: Ford, Firestone and Florida
 
 
Deadly Combination:
Ford, Firestone and Florida
Part One
  • Main story
  • Companies warming to settlements
  • At a glance
  • The players
  • Questions and Answers
  • A Timeline
  • What the companies say
  • Interview with Anita Kumar, the reporter
  • Graphic: How the tires failed
  • Graphic: When it’s too late
  • Graphic: By the numbers
  • Graphic: The human toll

  • Part Two
  • After the rollover
  • Suspect tires still on road
  • Driver side rear tires fail the most
  • About this report

  • Contact Anita Kumar:
  • Via e-mail: Click here
  • By phone: (727) 893-8472

    Further coverage
  • In first trial, Firestone settles lawsuit
  • Battered Firestone counting on local ties
  • Rollover crashes are hard to track
  • Ford leaves 2-door SUV unchanged
  • Recall may leave Firestone bankrupt
  • Government to expand tire recall
  • FHP says Firestone tire a factor in fatal crash
  • Two bay area lawsuits target Ford, Firestone
  • Ford agrees to test replacement tires
  • Ford recall: from bad to worse?
  • Ford's sub tires may fail more
  • Attention shifts from Firestone to Ford Explorer
  • Ford widens recall; companies cut ties
  • Ford recalls Wilderness AT Firestone tires
  • Dealerships brace for Ford tire recall
  • Tire decision not just for Ford owners
  • Voluntary tire recall rolling smoothly
  • Firestone cuts deal on bad tires
  • How the tires failed: An interactive graphic

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    Companies warming to settlements

    photo
    [AP 2000]
    Ford Motor Co. CEO Jacques Nasser, left, and his chief of staff, John Rintamaki, listen to testimony on Capitol Hill as two House subcommittees investigate the Firestone tire recall and its relation to Ford.

    By ANITA KUMAR

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 20, 2001


    At Ford Motor Co.'s request, lawyer Mike Eidson mailed the company details about each of the lawsuits he had filed involving the popular Explorer and Firestone tires.
    photo
    (Settling) was important for their image," lawyer Mike Eidson said.
    Just two weeks later, Eidson got a call. Ford was ready to deal.

    The company named the exact price it would pay to settle the lawsuits and, following a face-to-face meeting with a Ford lawyer and adjuster, Eidson's three cases were resolved in February.

    It happened without lengthy mediation sessions, tense depositions or legal wrangling over documents -- virtually unheard of in civil court where cases can drag on for years, often not concluding until the night before a trial is set to begin.

    Ford has been settling cases quickly and without much publicity for months while trying to recover from the public relations nightmare that erupted last year when word began to trickle out about deadly rollover accidents linked to tire failures.

    "They wanted to settle all cases," said Eidson, a Coral Gables lawyer also heading up a class action lawsuit against Ford and Firestone in federal court in Indiana. "It was important for their image. It was a business decision."

    Lawyers involved in the slew of lawsuits filed against Ford and Firestone say the tiremaker initially resisted settling cases, never approaching them or offering less than adequate settlements.

    But that's changed in recent weeks.

    "Ford came out first," said Bruce Kaster, an Ocala lawyer considered an expert in tire litigation nationwide. "For some reason, Firestone wasn't as aggressive. But they have made some progress in the last few weeks."

    Firestone has set aside $750-million to settle cases and other recall costs. Ford disclosed in its annual report that the lawsuits sought damages of $590-million.

    No official count is available of how many cases have settled, but lawyers estimate dozens have been resolved nationwide.

    In the 36 fatal accidents in Florida that the Times reviewed, at least 10 people who had family members die have settled with one of the companies, sometimes both. At least 18 people involved in accidents with injuries have settled.
    photo
    Firestone is making progress in settling, lawyer Bruce Kaster says.
    Ford and Firestone officials confirmed they are actively settling cases using both in-house attorneys and other large firms, such as Tampa-based Holland and Knight, but said that it is their companies' usual practice that reflects their concerns for customers.

    "The fact that we're settling is typical," Ford spokesman Jon Harmon said. "People will try to make something out of this that it's not."

    Ford and Firestone face at least 200 lawsuits in state courts across the country and about 300 class-action lawsuits that last year were consolidated into a massive federal lawsuit in Indiana that deals with both personal injuries and property damage.

    The push to settle started in December but escalated in January, when Ford and Firestone reached a deal with Donna Bailey, who was left paralyzed from the neck down in a Texas accident. The amount is confidential, but at the time the media reported a settlement between $20-million and $35-million.

    All agreements are confidential, but attorneys and their clients say the settlements are fair, an amount that some say would be difficult to resist.

    Ford officials apologize for the accidents but they do not discuss wrongdoing, said Ralph Patino, a Coral Gables lawyer representing victims in 19 accidents. Firestone, however, tries to defend the company by blaming customers for not wearing seat belts or not having enough air in their tires and never uses the words "We're sorry," he said.

    "We've expressed regret and sympathy before -- not an apology, though publicly we have done that," Firestone spokeswoman Jill Bratina said. "We absolutely know these accidents are tragic."

    Last month, a Texas jury rejected a $58-million claim against Ford, finding no defect in a 1995 Explorer that rolled over and killed two men on a fishing trip in 1997. The lawsuit did not name Firestone though the Explorer was equipped with the company's tires.

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