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Bridgestone Settles Firestone Tire Case

Litigation: The lawsuit would have brought the Tokyo-based company to trial in the U.S. for the first time.

January 12, 2002|LAWRENCE VIELE | BLOOMBERG NEWS

Bridgestone Corp. has settled a lawsuit filed by a brain-injured former nurse, avoiding what would have been the largest Japanese tire maker's first U.S. trial involving injuries blamed on recalled Firestone tires.

Ford Motor Co. and Bridgestone's U.S. unit, Bridgestone/Firestone Americas Holding Inc., also agreed to settle the suit, which was scheduled for trial Monday in a Wheeling, W.Va., state court. The amount of the settlement with former nurse Gloria Gregory was not disclosed.

"This settlement cost us much less than taking this case to trial," said Firestone spokeswoman Jill Bratina. "This case was based on speculation and very little fact. There were no tires to examine and no evidence the tires were the cause of the accident."

The case would have brought Tokyo-based Bridgestone to trial in the U.S. for the first time. Bridgestone has sought to sidestep liability in the Firestone tire litigation, claiming its U.S. subsidiary was operated independently.

Hours before the settlement, the West Virginia Supreme Court denied Bridgestone's appeal to be dismissed from the case on those grounds, said Gregory's lawyer Cale Conley. Bratina said Firestone, not its Japanese parent, will pay the tire maker's share of the settlement.

Gregory claimed Firestone tires mounted on her Ford Explorer sport-utility vehicle failed, causing the vehicle to flip. Gregory was thrown from the vehicle.

Ford officials called the claims "frivolous," saying Gregory wasn't wearing a seat belt. Firestone said there was no proof of defects because the tire that failed wasn't preserved.

Ford and Nashville-based Firestone have settled hundreds of tire tread failure and rollover claims since Firestone recalled 6.5 million tires made for the Explorer in August 2000 at the urging of federal safety officials. Firestone recalled 3.5 million more tires in October.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration links 271 deaths and more than 700 injuries to the tires, which were designed and made for the Explorer.

Since the recall, sales of the Firestone tires and Explorer SUVs have declined. The companies have traded blame for problems that have caused the accidents.

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