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Class-Action Status in Tire Case Disallowed

March 18, 2004|John O'Dell | Times Staff Writer

An Indio Superior Court judge Wednesday refused to certify as a class action a case alleging lethal defects in Steeltex tires sold by Bridgestone/Firestone and used on motor homes and emergency vehicles.

Judge Christopher J. Sheldon said the attorney for the lead plaintiff in the case failed to show enough evidence to combine claims into a nationwide suit involving a tire that comes in 103 styles. But the judge's ruling permits the attorney to file a new petition with additional evidence.

Dan MacDonald, spokesman for Nashville-based Bridgestone/Firestone told Associated Press the company was pleased with the ruling. "Based on the law and the facts, we're not surprised," he said.

Plaintiff Robert Littell of Cathedral City, Calif., claims his recreational vehicle was damaged after four Steeltex tires on his motor home blew out in separate incidents in 2001 and 2002.

Littell's attorney Joseph P. Lisoni, who has been pressing the case for more than 20 months, claims that Steeltex failures are responsible for more than 20 deaths nationwide. Lisoni sought to force the tire maker to recall up to 41 million tires and to reimburse 5 million customers for the cost of the tires.

Lisoni criticized the judge in an interview as "not qualified" to rule on a major class-action case. But Sheldon's ruling permits him to file a new petition, and Lisoni said he intended to do so. Lisoni also said he intended to file a separate class-action case in Los Angeles against Bridgestone Corp., the tire maker's Japan-based parent company.

Sheldon's ruling came two days after a Texas judge approved a $149-million settlement in a class-action case involving Firestone Wilderness tires.

Bridgestone/Firestone has been enmeshed in a series of suits over alleged flaws in its tires since the August 2000, recall of 17 million Wilderness AT and ATX brand tires. Those tires were used largely on Ford Explorers and other sport utility vehicles. A total of 271 deaths have been attributed to accidents caused by tread separations in Wilderness tires.

Lisoni maintains that Bridgestone/Firestone used a substandard bonding material that has led to numerous tread separations in Steeltex R4S, R4SII and A/T tires as well.

The tires are used as original equipment on 71 vehicles, mainly large pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles, RVs, ambulances and emergency vehicles.

Bridgestone/Firestone has spent more than $1.5 billion on various tire recalls and legal settlements. The company is recalling about 390,000 Steeltex Radial A/T tires under a voluntary program announced last month. But the company says most of its Steeltex tires manufactured over the last 14 years are safe.

Last year the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rejected Lisoni's request for an inquiry into Steeltex defects.

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