FORD EXPLORER ROLLOVER
Ford to make memos public; Paraplegic Woman in Texas Rollover gets Millions
in Explorer Rollover Settlement
January 9, 2001
BY ALEJANDRO BODIPO-MEMBA
FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER
A bedside apology
made by Ford Motor Co. attorneys sealed a lawsuit settlement with Donna
Bailey, a Texas woman who was paralyzed in an accident involving a Ford
Explorer mounted on Firestone tires.
Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone
Inc. reached the out-of-court settlement with Bailey on Saturday and Monday,
weren't disclosed by the companies, and no finding of fault or liability
was determined, according to both companies.
however, is believed to be among the largest pretrial settlements of a
product-liability case involving the auto industry. Sources familiar with
the case confirmed Monday that the total amount paid falls between $25
million and $35 million. It is expected to cover Bailey's medical bills
for the rest of her life.
case was scheduled to begin with pretrial motions Monday in Corpus Christi,
Texas. But negotiations between the companies and Bailey intensified over
the weekend, and the settlement was reached.
As part of the
settlement, Ford -- the world's second-largest automaker -- must make
public all Firestone tire and Ford Explorer documents previously made
available to federal investigators and congressional committees.
settlement is signed, the companies will have 90 days to analyze 300 tires
linked to Explorer wrecks. The findings -- which will be made public --
must then be submitted to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration
within 30 days. All documents that have already been given to the government
will be made public within 15 days.
Observers of the
Ford and Firestone cases suggest that the settlement will quicken the
pace of future settlement talks. Plaintiffs attorneys involved in similar
litigation with the two companies expect a wave of settlements within
the next two or three weeks.
Bailey's case was
one of more than 200 personal-injury cases filed in state courts nationwide
that alleged manufacturing defects and design flaws in both the Ford Explorer
-- the No. 1 selling sport-utility vehicle for the last 10 years -- and
the 15-inch Firestone ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires.
Last March, Bailey
was a passenger in the front seat of a 1997 Ford Explorer that had 15-inch
Firestone brand Wilderness AT tires. The tread of the right rear tire
began to tear from its casing, and the Explorer flipped several times.
The impact of the accident severed Bailey's spinal cord.
An avid rock climber
and a mother of two teenagers, Bailey has been confined to a Houston hospital
bed. She is now a ventilator-dependent quadriplegic.
Bailey will be able
to go home to Portland, Texas, in four to six weeks, once the financial
arrangements of the settlement are completed. She has been unable to go
home, in large part, because her home hasn't been fitted with the mechanisms
to allow Bailey to move around.
On Aug. 9, Bridgestone/Firestone,
which is based in Nashville, Tenn. and is a unit of Japan-based Bridgestone
Corp., recalled 6.5 million Firestone tires. The tires, which were mostly
on Ford Explorers, have been blamed for causing 148 deaths and more than
500 injuries in the United States.
Officials at Ford
said they were pleased to have resolved the case.
car maker sent three of its in-house attorneys -- John Mellen, Peter Tassie
and Jonas Saunders -- to express condolences to Bailey on behalf of the
company Sunday. Officials at Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. didn't visit Bailey
in the hospital, but President and Chief Executive Officer John Lampe
sent a handwritten letter expressing his sympathies to Bailey and her
details of the Firestone portion of the settlement were released. However,
the company maintains that there are no unusual problems with Wilderness
AT tires outside of those involved in the recall. The tires on the Explorer
that Bailey rode in were not part of the August recall.