August 25, 2001 -Tire Company Settles Injury Suit; Courts: Virginia Family Gets $7.5 Million From Bridgestone/Firestone Before Jury Verdict.
Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. paid the family of a paralyzed crash victim nearly $7.5 million Friday, settling yet another tire defect lawsuit before a jury could reach a verdict.
The $1-billion lawsuit filed by the family of 39-year-old Marisa Rodriguez was the first of hundreds of Bridgestone/Firestone complaints to reach trial since the company recalled 6.5 million flawed tires last summer. A federal court jury in the Virginia border town of McAllen had been deliberating for four days when the settlement was struck.
A lawyer for the Rodriguez family predicted that sooner or later a verdict will emerge from the mass of lawsuits.
"There's going to be trials and there's going to be verdicts," Tab Turner said Friday. "We've got Marisa Rodriguezes all over the country."
The company admitted no liability in the settlement. The amount was not disclosed, but a source close the negotiations said it was worth nearly $7.5 million.
Federal investigators have traced more than 200 deaths and 700 injuries to Ford Explorers outfitted with Firestone tires.
Details of the Rodriguez crash were similar to those in scores of other lawsuits already settled out of court by both companies: The family's Explorer flipped over and rolled three times on a Mexican roadway after the treads of a Bridgestone/Firestone tire peeled away. Rodriguez, the mother of three, has had to use a wheelchair ever since.
"Our mission here, for our family, was to make sure no other person suffered like our family did," said husband Joel Rodriguez. "Marisa is the important thing. We think that now we can get our lives back together."
The Rodriguez family originally sued Ford Motor Co. and Bridgestone/Firestone. Ford paid the family $6 million to stay out of court.
Bridgestone/Firestone, meanwhile, used the courtroom floor to blame Ford for the rollovers. Earlier this year, a 95-year relationship between the two companies dissolved into a flurry of finger pointing.
"We were very happy to be able to get our story out in front of this jury," Bridgestone/Firestone lawyer Bob Schick said. "This is not just a tire issue, this is a vehicle issue as well."
The tire company argued that design flaws in the sport-utility vehicle made it prone to rollovers. Firestone recalled 6.5 million ATX, ATXII and Wilderness AT tires last August in one of the largest product recalls in U.S. history.
"We are glad we were able to reach a resolution with the Rodriguez family," the company said. "Since the outset, when we provided financial assistance to help with the family's medical bills, we have been hopeful that we could reach a fair settlement that would also bring closure."
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