Ford Settles Civil Suit

CNN reports that a pending lawsuit between Ford and the driver of an Explorer equipped with Firestone tires has been settled out of court.

The plaintiff's attorney, Tab Turner, told CNN that he and Ford attorneys "worked all night" on the settlement. He would not disclose the terms but said, "Ford buckled."

Bailey v. Ford was filed by Donna Lynn Bailey, a 43-year-old mother of two, after a 1997 Ford Explorer she was riding in experienced tire tread separation while heading for a weekend trip with two friends in March 2000. The truck flipped over repeatedly and the roof collapsed on Bailey's head. She is now a quadriplegic. The other two passengers were not seriously injured.

She spent the second half of 2000 in a rehabilitation center trying regain enough strength to return to her Portland, Texas, home. Ford's lawyers are eager to settle this case prior to it going to trial so they can eliminate the possibility of allowing a jury to determine punitive damages, according to Bailey's lawyers.

Bailey's lawyers were ready take a different tack with the case, assuming it made it to trial. In addition to suggesting that Ford and Firestone knew the tires were unsafe for the vehicle, they were ready to claim that the vehicle's seat belt failed.

Ford took the allegation seriously enough that its issued a statement regarding the Bailey suit that said Ford Explorers, according to government accident data, "Explorer has a lower rate of fatal accidents, including rollovers, compared to the average competitive SUVs in its class." It added that the vehicle met all government mandated safety requirements, including for roof crush, at the time and that Ford's standards for roof crush are more stringent than the federal standard.

Bailey's suit sought unspecified damages. Ford, for its part, said settling the case is par for the course.

"We take the claims made in this lawsuit seriously," the company said in a released statement. "We have customers that have been injured in our product, many of which have immediate needs. We are meeting with those that have claims to try to resolve them amicably. The fact that we're settling cases is not unusual, given that 95 percent of all civil litigation is resolved outside of court. We will continue discussions with claimants in the future."

Regardless of how much Ford, Firestone and the dealership that sold the vehicle, must pony up to settle the suit, it will be just a small portion of what Ford and Firestone will be paying for some time.

Firestone's parent company, Japanese tire manufacturer Bridgestone, said it has allocated $750 million for the recall and lawsuits. Ford's $71million drop in third quarter profits is largely attributed to the costs related to the tire recall.

Firestone may also have more fish to fry soon as it announced it would recall 8000 of its Wilderness LE tires made in Mexico for General Motors Corp. sport-utility vehicles, citing adhesive problems.

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