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In the wake of the massive Firestone tire recall, the Georgia legislature is considering a bill that proponents say would have warned consumers about defective tires. H.B. 377, which would require that consumers have access to tire adjustment data — statistics on tires that purchasers return to dealerships — got an airing Thursday in a House Industry Subcommittee. Family members of victims of crashes involving allegedly defective tires urged its passage, while tire retailers said it was well-intentioned but misdirected. Tire adjustment data has been a closely guarded secret of the tire industry, which claims it is proprietary information. When customers return tires to retailers with a complaint, the retailer may give the customer a new tire or a credit against the price of a new tire. This refund or credit is known in the industry as an “adjustment.” The Georgia Supreme Court is considering an appeal on the admissibility of tire adjustment data in product liability cases involving tires. Cooper Tire and Rubber Co. v. Crosby, No. S00G0490 (Sup. Ct. Ga.). One of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Tyrone Brooks, D-Atlanta, told the Subcommittee on Small Business that the bill was a critical piece of consumer protection legislation. The problem of defective tires, Brooks said, “hit home to me when one of my dear friends was killed in an accident because he was riding on defective Firestone tires.” Brooks was referring to NAACP official and Decatur, Ga., resident Earl Shinhoster, killed last year in an auto accident on Interstate 85 in Alabama. Shinhoster’s widow urged passage of the bill on behalf of “hundreds who have lost their lives needlessly” because big corporations put profits ahead of safety. Ruby Shinhoster has sued Bridgestone-Firestone over her husband’s death, alleging that the June 11 crash of the Ford Explorer he was riding in was caused by a defective Firestone tire. She told legislators that the last time she saw her husband, they discussed difficulties with their 14-year-old son. “The next time I had an opportunity to see him was in an Alabama forensic lab,” she said. To most people, accidents are an everyday occurrence, Shinhoster said, adding that in this case, however, both Ford Motor Co. and Firestone knew about the tire problems. “It was not a tragedy,” she said. “I call it a travesty.” PUBLIC NEEDS INFORMATION Franklin Ford, whose son sustained traumatic brain injuries in an accident involving a separated Uniroyal tire, said, “Nobody should go through what we did.” The public, he added, needs information about the tires they buy. Ford described how his family had fought Uniroyal-Goodrich in court for 10 years before a confidential settlement. “They beat you to death. They hide information,” he said. Ford’s lawyer in that litigation, Yehuda Smolar of Smolar, Roseman, Brantley & Seifter, said the bill does not obligate the state in any way, but “will allow the tire industry to be regulated and consumers to be protected in the marketplace.” Smolar said, “It’s only when somebody is killed … after fighting through the courts, that we get the information about what the company knew.” At least half a dozen owners of tire dealerships, however, said that while they supported the intent of the legislation, it unfairly targeted retailers, when it should target tire manufacturers. They said a new federal law, the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation, or TREAD, Act, would accomplish what the bill’s sponsors were seeking. That law deals with reporting requirements for motor vehicle and tire defects. Lindy Bryant, of the Georgia Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association, said the Georgia bill was well-intentioned, but “pointed at the wrong segment of industry.” Dealers, he said, “would be punished for not disclosing information that they can’t compel [the tire] industry to disclose.” The bill provides that “No tires may be sold to any consumer at any retail location in this state where national adjustment rates are not published and available for inspection.” Brooks conceded that the legislation might need improving and agreed to work with the subcommittee. He added that it was not intended as an attack on retailers. Subcommittee Chair Don Wix, D-Mableton, said the committee would schedule another session on the bill.

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