St. Petersburg Times Online: News of Florida
TampaBay.com
Place an Ad Calendars Classified Forums Sports Weather
  • Air Force fighter jets force student flier to land at Ocala
  • Firestone deal done, focus shifts to Ford
  • EPA plans to decontaminate property
  • Administrator gets high marks on evaluation
  • Graham blocking Fish and Wildlife nominee
  • Florida in brief
  • Human relations agency accused of racial bias
  • Activist accuses race agency of racial bias
  • Senator faces criminal charges

  • From the state wire

  • Hurricane Jeanne appears on track to hit Florida's east coast
  • Rumor mill working overtime after Florida hurricanes
  • Developments associated with Hurricanes Ivan and Jeanne
  • Four killed in Panhandle plane crash were on Ivan charity mission
  • Hurricane Frances caused estimated $4.4 billion in insured damage
  • Disabled want more handicapped-accessible voting machines
  • USF forces administrators to resign over test score changes
  • Man's death at Universal Studios ruled accidental
  • State child welfare workers in Miami fail to do background checks
  • Hurricane Jeanne heads toward southeast U.S. coast
  • Hurricane Jeanne spurs more anxiety for storm-weary Floridians
  • Mistrial declared in case where teen was target of racial "joke"
  • Panhandle utility wants sewer plant moved to higher ground
  • State employee arrested on theft, bribery charges
  • Homestead house fire kills four children, one adult
  • Pierson leader tries to cut off relief to local fern cutters
  • Florida's high court rules Terri's law unconstitutional
  • Jacksonville students punished for putting stripper pole in dorm
  • FEMA handling nearly 600,000 applications for help
  • Man who killed wife, niece, self also killed mother in 1971
  • Producer sues city over lead ball fired by Miami police
  • Tourism suffers across Florida after pummeling by hurricanes
  • Key dates in the life of Terri Schiavo
  • An excerpt from the unanimous ruling in the Schiavo case
  • Four confirmed dead after small plane crash in Panhandle
  • Correction: Disney-Cruise Line story
  • tampabay.com

    printer version

    Firestone deal done, focus shifts to Ford

    Florida will use $2.3-million in settlement money to try to prove the automaker shares the blame for deadly accidents.

    By ANITA KUMAR

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published November 9, 2001


    The Florida Attorney General's Office is launching a full-blown investigation into Ford Motor Co., trying to prove that the automaker shares the blame in rollover accidents that led to hundreds of deaths nationwide.

    Attorney General Bob Butterworth will use $2.3-million that the state will receive from a settlement announced Thursday with Ford's former partner, Bridgestone/Firestone Corp., to try to show that Ford is just as, or perhaps even more, responsible than the tiremaker.

    The inquiry, expected to take several months, likely will end with the state suing Ford on behalf of its residents or striking a deal with the second-largest automaker, much like the one with Firestone filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court on Thursday.

    Without admitting any wrongdoing, Firestone agreed to a settlement with Florida and other states that calls for the tiremaker to pay $41.5-million to the states and up to $10-million to reimburse customers denied compensation in tire recalls, and to undergo company-wide changes.

    Florida's share will be $500,000 -- the same as other states -- and about $1.8-million for reimbursement of attorneys' fees.

    "Even before the settlement, we had an impact," Butterworth said Thursday. "We changed the corporate culture of Firestone."

    The tiremaker, hard hit in recent years with financial and consumer confidence problems, struck a deal with 53 states and territories to discontinue making and selling unsafe tires, provide clear warranty and safety information, and stop marketing dangerous tires as appropriate for sport utility vehicles.

    The company would be subject to fees or other penalties if it failed to comply.

    Firestone officials described the settlement as another important step in the company's effort to resolve recall-related issues but strongly disagreed with many of the accusations.

    "We ... believe that these efforts have allowed us to reach an acceptable agreement that permits us to focus our energies and our resources on rebuilding our company and the Firestone brand," Firestone president John Lampe said in a statement.

    Attorneys general had threatened to sue both Ford and Firestone but negotiated a settlement with the tiremaker before filing.

    Florida began parallel inquiries into Firestone and Ford in August 2000. Butterworth said he spent 10 percent of his time on the case this year.

    The attorney general said concluding the Firestone investigation will allow his staff to devote undivided time to the more complicated Ford case, which includes the review of 4.5-million company documents housed in Tallahassee.

    As part of the settlement, Firestone agreed to testify against Ford in any future legal action brought by the states -- one of the most valuable aspects of the agreement, Butterworth stressed.

    "The company will now provide sworn testimony and otherwise cooperate with the ongoing investigation," he said. "That should help us better determine all the factors involved in the rash of vehicle rollovers and take further steps to reduce or eliminate the risk."

    The states accuse Ford of failing to tell consumers about the dangers of the combination of certain SUVs and tires, hiding overseas recalls from customers and forcing Firestone to slash costs -- which made tires considerably less safe -- to keep doing business with Ford.

    Ford spokeswoman Kathleen Vokes declined to comment Thursday on the Firestone settlement. She said that the company was cooperating fully with the attorneys general but that describing their actions as an investigation into Ford was wrong.

    "So far, there are tire problems, not vehicle problems," she said.

    The federal agency that oversees the auto industry estimates 271 people died and hundreds more were injured in the United States in accidents related to Firestone tires. Most of them involved rollovers of the Ford Explorer, the best-selling SUV in the world.

    A St. Petersburg Times analysis found 44 people have been killed and 230 injured in Florida alone since 1997 in SUVs equipped with Firestone tires, making it one of the leading states for those types of crashes. Firestone has spent about $18.6-million to replace 208,407 tires in Florida.

    The Firestone lawsuit and settlement, filed simultaneously in the 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, blames Firestone for engaging in unfair and deceptive trade practices in manufacturing, advertising, marketing and sale of certain tires.

    Florida, along with Tennessee, Texas, Georgia, Connecticut and Wisconsin, led the inquiry into Firestone and will do the same with Ford.

    Butterworth acknowledged that the amount of money the states will receive in the Firestone settlement is low, but said the states did not want to bankrupt the company, which already has spent more than $1-billion on the recall.

    "We wanted to leave enough money out there," he said. "We wanted to leave them in a position to resolve individual claims of those who lost loved ones or require medical treatment."

    About 400 lawsuits against Ford and Firestone, including in a class-action suit in federal court, have not been resolved, said Tab Turner, a Little Rock, Ark., lawyer specializing in vehicle rollover cases. The companies have settled another 200.

    Seymour Kantor, father of a 19-year-old Florida State University student killed last year, wondered if the settlement with states would provide Firestone incentive to settle his lawsuit.

    "Hopefully this approach by Firestone will mean something," Kantor said. "The way they have behaved is criminal. They knew about this for years and still haven't come forward and admit that."

    Back to State news
    Back to Top

    © 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
    490 First Avenue South • St. Petersburg, FL 33701 • 727-893-8111
     
    Special Links
    Lucy Morgan


    From the Times state desk