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Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.’s decision on Aug. 9 to recall 6.5 million Firestone tires is likely to help plaintiffs lawyers win wrongful-death and personal-injury suits filed over accidents that occur when tread on the tires separates. “The suits just became a lot easier,” says plaintiffs’ lawyer Mikal Watts of Corpus Christi, Texas. “It will have a catastrophic effect on Firestone’s defenses, and it makes those cases more valuable.” “It certainly strengthens our position that these tires do have problems,” says Robert Ammons, a plaintiffs’ lawyer in Houston. The recall comes as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigates the safety of the tires in the wake of reports of 46 deaths in accidents involving vehicles with the tires — and news the tire maker has recalled tires equipping Ford Explorers and pick-up trucks in seven other countries. Texas, meanwhile, should be a hotbed for tire-tread separation litigation filed over accidents involving the recalled Firestone tires used on the popular Ford Explorer sport utility vehicle. Many of the reported accidents involving the tires have occurred in hot-weather states, including Texas. According to four plaintiffs’ lawyers in Texas with tire-tread separation suits, more than 100 wrongful-death and personal-injury suits are pending across the nation. At least 40 of them are in Texas, says plaintiffs’ lawyer Leon Russell of Dallas, who notes the number of suits will increase exponentially as word of the recall and potential problems with the tires spreads. “The primary effect of the recall will be to heighten people’s awareness and help them make the connection between what happened to them and the tire and, therefore, bring it to the attention of those who can help these folks,” says Russell, a partner in Russell, Brown & Sawicki. “The secondary effect will be to get these tires off the road,” he notes. But Thomas Dasse, a sole practitioner in Scottsdale, Ariz., who devotes most of his practice to tire litigation, says the wrongful-death and personal-injury suits won’t necessarily be easy to win, despite the recall. “You can’t assume that Firestone will roll over and start signing checks. They are a very, very tough company,” Dasse says. With hot weather suspected as a factor in causing the tires to explode, the recall is being conducted first in the southern states of Texas, Arizona, California and Florida. It applies to all Firestone Radial ATX and Radial ATX II tires and Wilderness AT tires manufactured at a plant in Decatur, Ill. TEXAS SUITS Like in some other areas of litigation, such as with suits filed against manufacturers of silicone breast implants and diet drugs used in the combination known as fen-phen, the results of trials in Texas may define settlement parameters nationwide. Four plaintiffs’ lawyers with tire-tread separation suits say they know of none in Texas, and very few elsewhere, that have gone to trial, although they know of several that have settled under confidential terms. But Corpus Christi, Tex., plaintiffs’ lawyer Robert Patterson is getting ready for a trial set for Oct. 16 before 381st District Judge John Pope in Rio Grande City, Tex., in Starr County. The suit against Firestone, the Nashville-based U.S. subsidiary of Japan’s Bridgestone Corp., is on behalf of the four children of a married pair of teachers from McAllen who were killed in an accident in their Ford Explorer in May 1999 in Cameron County, Texas, he says. A defense attorney for Firestone in the suit, Patrick Zummo, a partner in Houston’s Zummo, Patrick & Perry, refers comments to two Firestone representatives. Neither returned telephone messages by press time on Aug. 10. Patterson of Patterson & Associates says Ford was nonsuited in the case that goes to trial in October, Guillen, et al. v. Bridgestone/Firestone, et al. Lawyers from Brown McCarroll & Oaks Hartline are defending Ford Motor Co. in tire-tread litigation in Texas, according to two plaintiffs’ lawyers working in the area. Ronald Wamsted, a partner in Brown McCarroll in Austin, was out of the office on Aug. 10 and could not be reached for comment. Meanwhile, at least three suits seeking class-action status are pending in Texas courts. Watts, a partner in Harris & Watts, says he filed a suit on Aug. 3 in state court in Corpus Christi, asking a jury to declare the tires defective and to impose a duty on Firestone to recall them and to replace them. “We’re very pleased with the recall,” says Watts, who also has filed two personal-injury/wrongful-death suits stemming from accidents in Ford Explorers equipped with the Firestone tires. In Houston, Ammons, a partner in Stevenson & Ammons, filed a suit on Aug. 8 in state court, asking for a similar recall for Texans who have Ford Explorers with the Firestone tires. In John Brick, et al. v. Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., et al., Ammons alleges the named plaintiff brought his Ford Explorer into a dealership in Dallas, but employees refused to examine the Wilderness tires. Also on Aug. 8, David Showalter of the Law Offices of David W. Showalter in Bellaire, Tex., filed a suit in federal court in Houston, seeking class action status on behalf of all purchasers of Firestone ATX, ATX II, and Wilderness tires. Showalter says the recall doesn’t make the class litigation moot. “We think they are moving in the right direction, but it’s not full relief that our clients will be entitled to. People have lost time, lost [use] of their vehicles,” he says.

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