Tire Defects Finger Pointing: Ford v. Firestone
Texas Defective Tire Design Lawyers
Ford Motor Company and Bridgestone/Firestone enjoyed a long-term business relationship for more than a century until 2001 when the relationship ended as each organization blamed each other for the Ford/Firestone tire recall debacle. Having already recalled millions of Firestone tires installed on Ford vehicles, in 2001 Ford ended the relationship by publicly blaming Firestone for manufacturing defective tires, Ford stated it had lost faith in the safety of Firestone’s Wilderness AT brand tires designed specifically for Ford vehicles. Firestone responded by claiming Ford was trying to divert attention away from the flaws in the Ford Explorer and that Firestone would no longer sell tries to Ford due to a loss of “mutual trust and respect.” Acrimony between the two companies continues today as each fights class action suits as well as each other in court.
Brief Background of the Recall
On August 9, 2000, Bridgestone/Firestone and Ford announced the recall of 14.4 million tires that contain a safety-related defect. Specifically, certain Firestone tires are prone to tread separations, which can cause blow outs that may result in rollovers or other types of crashes that result in serious injuries and death. Firestone’s recall of these tires took place after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened a defect investigation on May 2, 2000 into approximately 47 million ATX, ATXII, and Wilderness tires manufactured by Firestone. NHTSA studies between 1992 and 1999 indicate that more than 100 people died in crashes involving tread separation of Firestone tires in the United States. Today, more than 500 injuries and 3,500 complaints have been linked to Firestone tires.
The first recall included all Firestone ATX and ATXII of the P235/75R15 size manufactured since 1991 and all Wilderness AT tires of that same size manufactured at Firestone’s Decatur, Illinois plant. Firestone estimated that approximately 6.5 million of these tires were still in service as of August 9, 2000. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) conducted an extensive investigation to determine whether other Wilderness tires, beyond those recalled by Firestone, contain a safety-related defect, and whether they should be recalled. Finally, in 2001, the NHTSA made an initial decision that a safety defect exists in Firestone Wilderness AT tires made before May 1998.
Following the NHTSA’s initial decision, Firestone announced in October, 2000 it would replace the P235/75R15 and P255/70R16 Wilderness AT tires produced before May 1998 that were still in use on sport utility vehicles. Firestone’s replacement program applies to tires installed as original equipment on certain 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1998 Ford Explorers and Mercury Mountaineers, as well as tires purchased in the replacement market for Ford, Mercury and other sport utility vehicles.
Finger pointing between Ford and Firestone began in late August 2000 when the Venezuelan consumer protection agency released a report indicating that it had enough evidence to proceed with criminal charges against Firestone and Ford. Ford announced that Firestone had failed to include a nylon overlay in the Venezuelan tires that could have reduced the tread separations that led to hundreds of accidents and many fatalities. Firestone, however, maintained that Ford recommended tire pressure that was too low for driving conditions in that country.
According to Firestone, it built the tires to Ford specifications, which did not include a requirement for nylon overlays. Ford charged that Firestone agreed to include the nylon overlays in tires manufactured in Venezuela but failed to do so. Ford further asserted that Firestone mistakenly labeled the tires to indicate that they contained nylon overlays. Ford has continuously maintained that the problem is exclusively related to the Firestone tires. Firestone, on the other hand, blames Ford for recommending an excessively low tire pressure.
On September 6, the chief executives of Firestone and Ford testified before the U.S. Congress. Masatoshi Ono of Firestone offered an apology, stating he accepted “full and personal responsibility” for the events leading to the hearings, but reiterated the company’s defense that drivers are to blame for the accidents.
Jacques Nasser, Ford’s chief executive, placed the blame on Firestone. He said that Ford did not learn of the tire problem until the company “virtually pried the data from Firestone’s hands and analyzed it ourselves.”
During the hearing, committee members accused Firestone and Ford of conducting a cover-up at the expense of people’s lives by failing to notify U.S. safety officials sooner about the problem.13 Both Ono and Nasser promised to furnish the congressional committee with additional information.
Finally, in 2001, the relationship ended publicly when each organization blamed the other for safety issues related to Firestone tires on Ford vehicles.
Litigation has revealed that many incidents of tread separation are attributable to poor manufacturing practices and quality control at certain tire plants. This information greatly bolsters manufacturing-defect claims involving tread separation. In addition, finger pointing by Firestone and Ford supports additional claims against these companies in tread separation cases, including design defect, marketing defect, and negligence claims.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a motor vehicle accident due to a defective tire, contact a San Antonio auto product liability attorney with experience in tire-defect litigation. Knowledge about the history, details about the various manufacturers, governmental regulation, as well as engineering analysis and accident reconstruction are critical for maximizing a plaintiff’s recoveries.
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