As most Americans know, Ford and Firestone were involved in the world’s largest tire recall in history a few years back. Firestone produced a special designed 15-inch ATX tire in 1990 which were installed by Ford on Explorers as original equipment. Tragically, the Firestone tires were defective and the Explorer was prone to rollover. Obviously, that was a very bad marriage and one that resulted in an untold number of catastrophic injuries and deaths. Unfortunately, the Ford and Firestone saga continues.
We have handled a number of cases over the past several years arising out of Firestone tire detreads and Explorer rollovers. Most recently, our firm settled a case on behalf of Mrs. Ethelene Baldwin, a Montgomery resident, who had been involved in a Ford rollover in 2007. Mrs. Baldwin was a front seat passenger in a 1996 Ford Explorer. She and other family members were traveling to Birmingham on I-65 when the left rear tire detreaded and the Explorer rolled over. Mrs. Baldwin, who was properly restrained in her seat belt, was partially ejected from the vehicle during the rollover and was severely injured. Even though the driver was traveling at highway speeds, approximately 70 miles per hour, he was unable to control the vehicle when the tire detreaded.
The tire detreaded because of defects known both to Ford and Firestone. It was originally a spare tire on this Explorer. Due to a recall, four of the original Firestone tires were taken off the Explorer, but the spare remained in the vehicle. Eventually the spare was put on the left rear of the Explorer and it was involved in this rollover.
Both Ford and Firestone knew all about the defective tires several years before that first tire recall took place in the United States. In fact, several years prior to the first recall, Ford implemented a series of “secret recalls” in Venezuela. Ford recognized the problem there and eventually remedied the problem by making the shock absorbers on the Explorer much stronger. We knew from handling a number of prior cases, including several arising in Venezuela, that the remedy was to replace the shocks with stiffer and stronger ones and to place them further outboard. The same fix was recommended by Ford engineers for the U.S. market, but it wasn’t done. In fact, NHTSA was not even informed about all of the detread and rollover problems in Venezuela and several other foreign countries.
Firestone first recalled the defective tires in the United States in August of 2000. A recall notice was sent out at that time by first class mail. Over the next few years, Ford and Firestone came to realize that millions of recalled tires were still on the road and in use. Subsequently, a second recall was done in 2006. Significantly, Firestone sent out the second recall notice by third class mail and without a reply card. As you may know, third class mail is not forwarded if the addressee’s address has changed. Also, the notice is not returned to the sender if it is not delivered. A tremendous number of owners never got a recall notice, resulting in millions of defective tires remaining on U.S. highways.
Neither our client nor the used car lot that sold the Explorer received any recall notice from either Ford or Firestone. A prior owner of this Explorer received a recall notice and, as a result, the four Firestone tires that were on the ground were replaced. But the spare remained with the vehicle.
The Defendants in the case, which was set for trial on April 20th in Montgomery County, were Ford Motor Co., Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire LLC. We were able to settle the case with all Defendants on the Thursday prior to the trial date. The amount of the settlement from each Defendant is confidential.
During our investigation of the Baldwin case, we found that Firestone tires that had been spares were still on Ford Explorers. Tragically, fatalities and serious injuries will continue until such time as Ford and Firestone locate and destroy all of the recalled tires that are still in service.
LaBarron Boone, Greg Allen, and I handled this case for Mrs. Baldwin. We know all that this lady has been through and what the future holds for her because of her injuries and disability. We are most pleased to have reached a settlement in her case that will make the future much better for her.