- The Washington Times - Monday, August 27, 2001

After almost a year of defending its tires as safe and well-made, Firestone last week quietly settled with the family of a Texas woman left paralyzed and brain damaged by an accident precipitated by the catastrophic failure of one those very same tires. Firestone agreed to pay $7.5 million to the family of Marisa Rodriguez in one of the first of a likely cavalcade of settlements arising from lawsuits brought against the tire maker over alleged defects in its Wilderness AT and ATX tires. Firestone had previously argued that the source of the problem was not its tires but rather a design problem with the Ford Explorer the SUV that has been involved in most of the tire failure-related accidents.
However, last Friday's settlement suggests otherwise. Rather than wait for a jury to decide fault in the matter, Firestone lawyers offered the multi-million-dollar settlement with the lawyers saying afterwards that other pending cases will likely be settled on a similarly "amicable basis." So far the tire maker has settled some 200 cases related to tire failure accidents out of court and there is a major class-action suit getting under way in Indianapolis that could ultimately cost Firestone billions. Meanwhile, federal regulators are close to announcing a decision as to whether to expand the tire recall that already affects more than six million Firestone-branded tires. If such a recall does go into effect, it could involve as many as 13 million Firestone tires and not just those found on the Ford Explorer.
Given the weight of evidence workers at Firestone's Decatur, Il. plant have stated that subpar materials, including defective steel and old rubber were used to make the tires that subsequently experienced a far higher rate of failure than would be considered normal or acceptable, it seems prudent to expand the recall to include any and all Firestone tires that could be unsafe. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the government agency that is supposed to be on the watch for such things, seemed to have been asleep at the wheel as the Firestone tire problem became apparent. It did nothing for several months, despite the ever- increasing death toll involving these particular tires.
Hopefully, NHTSA and its parent entity, the Department of Transportation, will have been more thorough this go-around. If a wider recall is necessary, it should be ordered. And if Firestone goes broke paying out settlements to the families of those harmed by defective tires, justice will have been served at least to some extent.


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