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Tire Maker to Add Safety Features to Settle Suits

Bridgestone/Firestone also agrees to fund a $15-million consumer education campaign.

July 25, 2003|Myron Levin | Times Staff Writer

Bridgestone/Firestone will add safety features to tens of millions of new light-truck tires under a nationwide class-action settlement that gained preliminary approval Thursday.

The Nashville-based tire maker also will spend $15.45 million on a tire safety awareness campaign under terms of the agreement, which resolves a series of class actions stemming from the recall of millions of Firestone ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires in 2000 and 2001.

The settlement does not affect pending personal injury suits stemming from tire blowouts that triggered rollover accidents.

Federal authorities have linked the tires to more than 300 deaths and hundreds of serious injuries in the U.S. and abroad. Most victims were riding in Ford Explorers that flipped over when the steel belts in the tires came loose, causing the treads to peel off.

The settlement approved Thursday in Beaumont, Texas, by state court Judge Donald Floyd provides $2,500 each to 45 named plaintiffs, but no direct benefits to hundreds of thousands of other members of the class -- tire owners who did not suffer injuries or damage to their vehicles.

But it requires the tire maker to install devices known as nylon caps or belt edge strips for at least the next seven years on many lines of new tires used on sport utility vehicles and other light trucks.

The caps, which are stretched like a tourniquet over the top of a tire's steel belts, are an effective way to reduce the risk of blowouts from tread separation, experts say.

The cost of the devices typically is pennies to about $2 per tire. Even so, to save cost and weight, most tire makers have been loath to use them, saying they are needed only in certain high-performance tires.

Dan MacDonald, a Bridgestone/Firestone spokesman, said the caps would be used in several models of light-truck tires, including 21 sizes of Wilderness, 19 sizes of Destination and five sizes of Peerless Widetrack tires.

The agreement to fund a three-year consumer education program shows that "we remain committed to safety," said Christine Karbowiak, public affairs vice president of Bridgestone Americas Holding Inc.

The deal also allows people who still own tires that were recalled in 2000-01 to exchange them at no charge at Firestone dealers.

Bridgestone/Firestone agreed to pay $19 million in legal fees to plaintiffs' lawyers, who could not be reached for comment.

The company still faces a class-action suit in Riverside on behalf of millions of owners of Steeltex tires. The suit claims the tires are defective.

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