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August 13, 2002 - Lawsuit In U.S. Alleges Bridgestone/Firestone Tire Defect

August 13, 2002 - Lawsuit In U.S. Alleges Bridgestone/Firestone Tire Defect

A proposed class-action lawsuit was filed Tuesday against Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., alleging that its Steeltex tires are defective and prone to tread separations. The suit was filed in Riverside County Superior Court on behalf of Roger Littell and asks that Bridgestone/Firestone recall three models of the tire and reimburse owners for the cost of the tires.

While the suit claims that people have been killed in accidents because of the alleged failure of the Steeltex tire, it isn't a personal-injury claim and doesn't seek punitive damages. The suit asserts that Bridgestone/Firestone knew that the more than 27.5 million Steeltex R4S, R4SII and A/T tires that have been sold contained a lamination defect that could cause the entire tread to separate in a matter of seconds, leading to the tire's total disintegration.

Earlier this year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration closed a 16-month investigation into the Steeltex tires after saying it could find no evidence of a design defect. "Bottom line, neither the agency charged with overseeing the safety of our roads nor our company believes any action regarding the Steeltex line of tire is warranted," Bridgestone/Firestone said in a statement Tuesday. "We are disappointed that certain plaintiffs' lawyers will try to create fear and concern among the driving public for their own personal gain."

The lawsuit stems from an earlier civil suit filed against Bridgestone/ Firestone in connection with a July 2000 accident that killed two people and injured nine. The 11 passengers were riding in a large Ford passenger van on Interstate 15 in California on the way back from Las Vegas when a Steeltex tire blew out, causing the van to flip over once. The suit was settled this April. Terms of the settlement were confidential.

The lawyer representing the plaintiffs in that case said Bridgestone/Firestone declined a request to voluntarily recall their Steeltex tire, leading to Tuesday's lawsuit suit. "This litigation is not about money, it's about responsibility," Joseph Lisoni, the plaintiffs' lawyer, said Tuesday at a news conference in Pasadena. Mr. Lisoni said in addition to the lawsuit, notices were being sent to 1,300 Firestone dealers through the U.S. and to government officials, demanding the immediate recall of the three Steeltex models.

Mr. Lisoni alleged that the Steeltex tire fails much the same way as the Firestone Wilderness series. "It's the same exact manufacturing process on a different tire," he said.

In August 2000, the Nashville-based company recalled 6.5 million ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires, many sold as standard equipment on the Ford Explorer. Last November, state attorneys general announced Bridgestone/Firestone will pay $41.5 million in a settlement to end state lawsuits over the tires.

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