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Ford to make memos public; Paraplegic Woman in Texas Rollover gets Millions in Explorer Rollover Settlement

January 9, 2001

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, respectively.

Financial terms weren't disclosed by the companies, and no finding of fault or liability was determined, according to both companies.

The settlement, 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.

The high-profile 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.

"After the 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.

The Dearborn-based 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 family.

No further 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.

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Mr. Willis is Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

Mr. Willis is a licensed attorney in New York and Texas. Principle office is Houston, Texas

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