TEXAS jury deliberating in Bridgestone/Firestone case involving rollover injuries

Wednesday, August 22nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

McALLEN, Texas (AP) _ Jurors in a $1 billion liability lawsuit against Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. have begun deliberating whether a defective tire led to a rollover accident that left a Texas woman brain-damaged.

The lawsuit was brought by Dr. Joel Rodriguez, a physician whose wife, Marisa, is paralyzed and must use a wheelchair after the crash of a Ford Explorer with Firestone tires on a Mexican road in March 2000.

Before lawyers for both sides presented their closing arguments Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Filemon Vela asked jurors to determine whether the Firestone Wilderness AT tire had a manufacturing defect because of poor design and negligence.

Vela also instructed the nine-member panel to decide if Ford Motor Co. is to blame, and if so, how much.

The jury deliberated less than two hours before recessing. The judge instructed the panel to return on Wednesday.

The defense has argued that Bridgestone/Firestone knew tread separation was a problem on its tires long before it recalled 6.5 million of them last summer.

Firestone lawyers, however, have blamed the crash on Ford Motor Co., saying the faulty design of the Explorer SUV made tires lose their tread. They said any other vehicle wouldn't have rolled over after a similar tire failure.

More than 200 deaths and 800 injuries in the United States have been blamed on Explorers rolling over after the tread on a Firestone peeled away. This is the first lawsuit against the tire company to go to trial.

Firestone attorney Tony Canales suggested that the jury should find Ford liable for $6.5 million in damages _ even though Ford is not a defendant, having settled out of court for $6 million.

A $1 billion award for the plaintiffs could sink Bridgestone/Firestone, which chief executive officer John Lampe testified will be worth $1.3 billion at year's end, down from $2.4 billion in 1999.

Rodriguez's attorneys used their closing argument to make an emotional statement that pitted corporate cost-cutting against ``the American people.''

``Day after day we would wake up and see a new picture of a new victim,'' Tab Turner said. ``This country is in a state of denial, about the tire, about ethics. This company is immoral... They have no shame.''