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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    Two bay area lawsuits target Ford, Firestone

    A Tampa lawyer says his clients are seeking civil damages under Florida's version of the federal racketeering laws.


    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published June 30, 2001

    Two lawsuits filed Friday against Bridgestone/Firestone and the Ford Motor Co. accuse the companies of creating a pattern of criminal negligence that killed more than three dozen Floridians riding on Firestone tires.

    Using the state's version of federal racketeering laws, Tampa attorney Hugh N. Smith's clients are seeking civil damages for criminal acts from the two companies. He said the lawsuits are the first of their kind in the nation.

    "I thought it was time that somebody finally call the conduct of Ford and Firestone what it really is, and it's criminal," said Smith.

    Ten other recent lawsuits filed against Bridgestone/Firestone and the Ford Motor Co. allege tire failures and Ford Explorer accidents in North Florida and South Georgia.

    The suits, like hundreds of others filed across the nation since defects in the tires were reported last summer, accuse the tire manufacturer and the automaker of negligence resulting in serious injuries when the tires failed and the sport utility vehicles crashed.

    Attorney Steve Pajcic said five of the lawsuits were filed in Duval County, one was filed in Madison and two each were filed in Volusia County and Camden County, Ga.

    Smith's law firm filed one lawsuit in Pinellas County and one in Hillsborough. He represents Wendella Nisbett of Clearwater and Robertina Rodriguez of Tampa.

    Rodriguez was in an accident on Mother's Day 2000 in Monterrey, Mexico. Her husband, Jose M. Villagomez,, was killed and she is a paraplegic. They were in a Mercury Mountaineer, a Ford-made equivalent of the Explorer, when a Wilderness AT tire separated, according to the lawsuit. The tires were not subject to an August 2000 recall. Their two children were permanently injured, the suit says.

    Nisbett's 19-year-old son, David, was killed in June 2000. David Nisbett was a passenger in a Ford Explorer equipped with AT tires that were recalled two months later. He and his friends were on their way to a wedding when a tire separated and the Explorer rolled over on Interstate 75 near Venice.

    "We've been developing this evidence for almost a year, devoting considerable attention to the details," Smith said. "As you read these things, it leads to the inescapable conclusion that Ford and Firestone really did not care about the safety of the people in this country."

    Kathleen Vokes, cq a spokesman for Ford Motor Co., said that the allegations were absurd.

    "Objective data from the (U.S.) Department of Transportation show that the Ford Explorer is one of the safest vehicles on the road. In all accident types, the Explorer is 27 percent safer than passenger cars, and it is 19 percent safer than other compact SUVs in a rollover accident," she said.

    Firestone spokeswoman Jill Bratina said the company sympathizes with people injured or killed in accidents on its tires, but "it's important to remember that accidents happen for a number of reasons, and what caused these accidents will be determined through the legal process."

    The other 10 lawsuits do not involve fatalities, and Pajcic said he had thought the two companies might be willing to settle. But those efforts were unsuccessful, he said, because Ford wanted Firestone to take most of the responsibility and Firestone wasn't prepared to make an offer.

    The two companies have been increasingly at odds in recent months, with Ford recently severing its long business relationship with Firestone.

    - Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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