Judge approves class certification in Bridgestone/Firestone non-injury lawsuits

Thursday, November 29th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ Millions of Americans who owned or still own certain Firestone tires and Ford Explorers were granted class certification Wednesday in non-injury lawsuits against the two companies.

The federal court ruling means anyone in the United States who owned or leased a 1991 through 2001 model year Explorer, or anyone who owned certain types of Firestone tires from 1990 to the present, is automatically included in the class-action lawsuit.

The lawsuits do not involve cases where people experienced tire blowouts or vehicle rollovers, but focus on loss of value and violations of consumer protection laws in the wake of Bridgestone/Firestone's massive tire recall and problems with Explorer rollovers.

``It's a big win for the plaintiffs and it's a decision that was appropriate,'' said plaintiffs' attorney Irwin Levin. ``There will be great wailing and moans coming from corporate America that they will actually have to face these issues in court.''

Both companies plan to appeal.

``We think the ruling is a mistake and we think it will be reversed on appeal,'' said Ford attorney Don Lough. ``We think it's inappropriate to have a class-action brought by lawyers on behalf of people who've never suffered an injury.''

Bridgestone/Firestone officials said in a statement they ``continue to believe that the issues and circumstances in these lawsuits are far too varied to justify class certification.''

Levin said he and the other attorneys have not established how much they will seek in damages.

The Firestone tires involved are: Firestone ATX, ATX II, Firehawk ATX, ATX 23 Degree, Widetrack Radial Baja and Wilderness.

The claims involved in the class-action are separate from about 500 personal-injury lawsuits involving deaths or injuries suffered in vehicle accidents. Federal cases against the tire company and Ford have been consolidated in Indianapolis under U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker.

The tires have been linked to more than 250 deaths and hundreds of injuries in accidents in which the tread separated from the tire. Many involved rollovers of the popular Ford Explorer, which used the tires as standard equipment.

Bridgestone/Firestone, a subsidiary of Bridgestone Corp., completed its recall of 6.3 million tires in August.

Barker said she would release her full analysis of her decision shortly. After that, defense attorneys have 10 days to appeal to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.