Originally created 08/17/00

Firestone faces state lawsuit



Forty-one state attorneys general discussed concerns during a conference call Tuesday about how Bridgestone/Firestone is recalling 6.5 million tires. The state officials are concerned the three-phased plan might put some motorists in danger and are considering legal action.

The call was initiated by Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery, chairwoman of the Consumer Protection Committee of the National Association of Attorneys General.

The consensus of the discussion was to wait for more information, a spokesman for the Ohio attorney general said. The officials will talk again in about a week, he added.

South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon, however, already has filed a lawsuit against Bridgestone/Firestone in Richland County , alleging the company violated the state's Unfair Trade Practices Act by giving higher priority to customers in some states.

Four states - Arizona, California, Florida and Texas - are scheduled to get tires first, with seven other states, including Georgia, next in line. After that, the rest of the nation will be supplied, including South Carolina. States in the third phase might have to wait a year or more to have their recalled tires replaced, the company said last week.

Mr. Condon is asking the court to force the company - which is making some of the replacement tires at the Bridgestone/Firestone facility in Aiken - to replace tires in South Carolina immediately. He also is seeking as much as $5,000 for each violation.

"Firestone has turned a deaf ear to our requests and pleadings for fair treatment of South Carolina," Mr. Condon said. "Now, we'll let them hear from us through legal pleadings inside a courthouse in South Carolina."

Bridgestone/Firestone spokesman Doug McGraw responded by saying the company is not prohibiting customers in South Carolina or any other state from getting tires replaced.

"We are doing everything we can to get replacement tires," he said Wednesday. "We're even using competitors' tires. We are doing everything we can to get people tires."

In the past few days, Mr. Condon has invited other state attorneys general to join him, including Eliot Spitzer, who said he was considering legal action in New York. Mr. Condon said he has been in contact with the attorneys general of North Carolina and Ohio.

Bridgestone/Firestone has said it does not plan to change the recall procedures. The company contends that the voluntary recall, which it estimates will cost more than $300 million, is merely a precaution to assuage public safety concerns.

The recalled tires are under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and might be related to 300 accidents that resulted in more than 60 deaths. But the tire manufacturer said it will maintain that the recalled tires are among the safest on the road until the investigation reveals otherwise.

Some customers will have to wait, the company said, because not all 6.5 million recalled tires can be replaced immediately. Initial projections by the company estimate it will take a year or more to complete the recall.

The 15-inch tires - Firestone radial ATX and radial ATX II tires made in North America, and Wilderness AT tires made in Decatur, Ill. - go on pickups and sport utility vehicles. About 70 percent of the tires went on Ford Explorers and Mercury Mountaineers.

Mr. Condon contends that the tires are a safety threat and that the tire manufacturer has acknowledged the recalled tires are prone to failure under normal use, especially in hot climates. He asked the company to recall the tires in all states at the same time.

In addition to Mr. Condon's lawsuit, Bridgestone/Firestone is facing a rising tide of legal claims that allege injury from customers throughout the nation.

Mr. McGraw said he did not know how many lawsuits have been filed against the tire manufacturer.

Reach Frank Witsil at 823-3352.