Settlement reached in paralyzed woman’s suit against Ford, Firestone
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – A woman paralyzed in a rollover crash of a Ford Explorer with Firestone tires reached a settlement Monday under which Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone agreed to make public thousands of pages of internal memos and reports.
”We’re talking about an incredible, locked-up vault of information,” said Mikal Watts, a lawyer for 43-year-old Donna Bailey. ”This case will go a long way toward uncovering some of the secrets around these tire failings.”
Bailey, a former rock climber and weightlifter who was paralyzed from the neck down in a wreck last March, had sued the companies for more than $100 million.
Under the settlement, she also received an undisclosed sum of money – ”enough to take care of her for the rest of her life,” Watts said.
The documents prove Ford knew about the rollover problems as early as 1989; that a 1995 Explorer redesign did nothing to stabilize the vehicle’s structure; and that Bridgestone/Firestone was long aware of its tire’s failings, said Roger Braugh, another lawyer for Bailey.
As part of the settlement, the companies also promised to analyze the failings of 300 tires, many of which were not among the 6.5 million recalled in August, Watts said.
Ford has long blamed Firestone tires for at least 200 fatal crashes leading up to the August recall. Bridgestone/Firestone, in turn, has blamed the Explorer’s design.
Bridgestone/Firestone spokeswoman Christine Karbowiak said in a statement that the company was pleased to settle because ”protracted litigation would serve no useful purpose.”
Bailey was injured after the treads peeled off a Firestone tire, causing her friend’s Explorer to roll over. The tire was not among those specified in the recall.
Monday’s settlement does not indicate there were problems with tires that weren’t recalled, Karbowiak said.
Bailey’s lawyers believe they have documents that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration never requested from the companies.
The lawyers said the new analysis and release of documents could spur the recall of additional Bridgestone/Firestone tires, and could prove that defects were more widespread than the companies have admitted.
Bailey insisted public disclosure be included in the settlement agreement, her lawyers said.
”She does not want her case to stand merely for someone who wanted a monetary award,” Watts said. ”She wanted to advance public safety and protect lives.”
Bailey lies paralyzed in a rehabilitation center in Houston. Her lawyers did not make her available for comment Monday.
She has undergone 10 months of rehabilitation and spends her days staring at soap operas, drawing oxygen through a ventilator.
Before the accident, Bailey, who has an 18-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son, was studying at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi to be a gym teacher, and led troubled teens on climbing and camping expeditions as a volunteer wilderness instructor.
”We are pleased to have resolved this case with Donna Bailey,” Ford spokeswoman Susan Krusel said. ”We extend our sympathies to her and her family.”
After the settlement is signed, the companies will have 90 days to analyze 300 tires linked to Explorer wrecks. The findings must then be submitted to NHTSA within 30 days, and also will be made public. All documents already handed over to the government will be made public within 15 days.
As many as 200 lawsuits have been filed against Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone over tire-related crashes. Last month, Ford resolved six claims in a single day, and Bruce Kaster, a leading lawyer in defective tire suits, said the company appeared to be moving quickly to resolve the cases.
On the Net:
Ford Motor Co.: http://www.ford.com
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