In March of 2000, Donna Bailey was on her way to a climbing trip in Texas with two of her friends. It sounds like it should be a cheerful story. Unfortunately, that was not to be. Bailey, a forty-six year old mother of two, was left paralyzed from the neck down when the Firestone tires on the Ford Explorer she was driving began to separate, causing the SUV to roll over.
Not everyone who has experienced this terrifying phenomenon has survived. 271 people died in accidents involving Firestone’s tires on Ford Explorers before their eventual 2000 recall. Many more, like Bailey, were seriously injured.
It was the largest tire recall in history.
Internal documentation eventually showed that both Ford and Firestone were well aware of the separation problem, and the rollovers that resulted from it, as early as 1997. Firestone had already received complaints from consumers who had purchased the Ford vehicle with their tires – a hundred times more complaints than they normally received for their products. The fact that there was a major problem with these tires was evident.
Later, Firestone employees would reveal that they punctured bubbles in the tire’s rubber to help disguise imperfections. Inspection and regulation of the finished tires was nonexistent.
At least three years after the company initially learned of the dangerous flaws in their product, in May of 2000, an investigation was finally opened by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. NHTSA’s concern was primarily over the issue of tread separation.
Tread separation occurs when the tread peels off the tire, often followed by the tire disintegrating. If this happened at speed, then it is likely to lead to a rollover. Vehicle rollovers are incredibly dangerous, and have a higher fatality rate than other kinds of accidents. Under normal circumstances, rollovers account for only about 3% of accidents, but 33% of fatalities – about a third of all fatalities. They are especially dangerous if drivers are not wearing their safety belts, but many drivers, like Donna Bailey, are seriously injured in rollovers despite proper safety belt use.
Under this attention, Firestone recalled 6.5 million tires. This would seem like a responsible move on the part of Firestone, finally, but the NHTSA warned the company of over a million tires with potentially worse faults than the recalled units. Firestone refused to expand the recall.
Firestone executives would go on to defend their decision against taking further action by saying, “We’ve got such a high volume of tires that looking for the root cause of the problem is like looking for a needle in a haystack.”
The NHTSA’s maximum fine of $925,000 was not enough to deter Firestone from inaction.
Donna Bailey sought justice through the civil court system, and was able to receive not only a monetary settlement, but also apologies from Firestone executives. Internal documents from Firestone were also released as part of the settlement.
If you have been injured in a car accident or due to a case of product liability, such as this one, then you need the services of a skilled attorney. If you have any questions, call MLN Law at 404-531-9700 to schedule a free consultation.