McALLEN, Texas -- Dr. Joel Rodriguez, his wife and two family members were traveling in Mexico when a tire blew out on their 1998 Ford Explorer.
The vehicle rolled and all four were injured in the March 2000 accident. Rodriguez's 39-year-old wife, Marisa, needs a wheelchair for the rest of her life.
The family sued Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., launching what will be the first tire-defect lawsuit to go to trial against the manufacturer. Trial was set to begin Monday.
Tires manufactured by Nashville-based Bridgestone/Firestone have been linked to 203 U.S. traffic deaths and more than 700 injuries. In August 2000, Firestone recalled 6.5 million tires, many of which came on Ford vehicles.
In May, Ford Motor Co. recalled an additional 13 million tires, saying it was concerned about the tires' safety. Bridgestone/Firestone, a subsidiary of Bridgestone Corp., has said Ford's action was unnecessary.
Last month, a federal judge refused to issue an emergency injunction against Bridgestone/Firestone that would have expanded the company's tire recall by as many as 3 million tires.
The Rodriguez family has said the goal of their lawsuit is to force the company to accept more responsibility and enact a wider recall. The company maintains that tires currently on the road are safe.
Mark Emkes, president of Bridgestone/Firestone's international tire operations, said Friday that a settlement remained possible. Firestone has settled more than 150 cases out of court for undisclosed sums.
But on Sunday, company spokeswoman Jill Bratina said a settlement was not likely.
"We are preparing to be at the courthouse tomorrow for the beginning of the trial," Bratina said.
While Firestone risks a huge verdict and negative publicity, the lawsuit poses little risk for the plaintiff, said Sean Kane of Strategic Safety, a safety research firm.
"In this particular case, there's a lot going against Firestone," he said. "It's not the kind of case that if you're a defendant, you want to see going to trial."
On the Net:
Ford Motor Co.: http://www.ford.com
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: http://www.nhtsa.gov
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