Monday, August 13, 2001

First Firestone trial slated today




The Associated Press

        McALLEN, Texas — What would be the first tire-defect lawsuit to go to trial against Bridgestone/Firestone was set to begin today in the case of a Texas family injured when their Ford Explorer rolled over on a Mexican highway.

        (Click here for the latest update from Associated Press)

        U.S. District Judge Filemon Vela expects the case to last two weeks.

        In March 2000, Dr. Joel Rodriguez, his wife and two family members were traveling in Mexico when a tire blew out on their 1998 Ford Explorer and their vehicle rolled. All four were injured; Mr. Rodriguez's 39-year-old wife, Marisa, iswheelchair-bound for life.

        Mark Emkes, president of Bridgestone/Firestone's international tire operations, said Friday that a settlement remained possible. Firestone has settled more than 150 cases out of court for undisclosed sums.

        But on Sunday, company spokeswoman Jill Bratina said a settlement was not likely.

        “We are preparing to be at the courthouse tomorrow for the beginning of the trial,” Ms. Bratina said.

        Doug Gwyther, attorney for the Rodriguezes, said settlement talks were sporadic, but the family is receptive.

        While Firestone risks a huge verdict and negative publicity, the lawsuit poses little risk for the plaintiff, said Sean Kane of Strategic Safety, a safety research firm.

        “In this particular case, there's a lot going against Firestone,” he said. “It's not the kind of case that if you're a defendant you want to see going to trial.”

        Tires manufactured by Nashville-based Bridgestone/Firestone have been linked to 203 U.S. traffic deaths and more than 700 injuries. Last August, Firestone recalled 6.5 million tires, many of which came on Ford vehicles.

        Ms. Bratina said tires currently on the road are safe.

       



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