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Legal Wheels Keep Turning.docx - Chicago Sun-Times - October 6, 2000

Legal Wheels Keep Turning
By: Mark Skertic
Chicago Sun-Times
October 6, 2000

A group of Venezuelan attorneys came to Chicago on Thursday, seeking justice for Ford Explorer owners that aren’t sure they could get in their country.

They have asked to join an effort to certify the first worldwide class-action lawsuit against Ford Motor Co., Bridgestone/Firestone Corp.

"What we are seeking is for these Venezuelans to be compensated for what they have lost," said attorney Aurelio Fernandez-Concheso, whose group represents about 400 Venezuelan Explorer owners.

Failing Firestone tires on the best-selling Ford Explorer have been linked to more than 100 deaths in the United States. In August, the tire maker voluntarily recalled about 6.5 million ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires.

Months earlier, Ford began a recall of Explorers outfitted with Firestones in Venezuela, after reports of tire failures and rollovers in that country, where as many as 100 deaths have been blamed on Firestone tires on Explorers.

Thursday, Chicago attorney Kenneth B. Moll filed papers in U.S. District Court here, seeking to amend an earlier class-action suit against Firestone and Ford. Moll wants the complaint to cover anyone worldwide who has been the victim of bad Firestones on Explorers.

"Tires were made here and shipped to Venezuela," Moll said. "And we know that tires were made in Venezuela according to design protocols made in the United States."

Concerns about delays in the Venezuelan court system and possible difficulty in recovering from the companies’ operations there prompted them to seek remedies in the United States.

Venezuelans typically pay 35 percent to 40 percent interest to buy a vehicle, Fernandez-Concheso said. An Explorer is the most significant purchase many families make, he said, one that traditionally has kept a high resale value.

But since the recall and publicity, many can only sell an Explorer -- even one with new tires -- at a loss, he said. "Some people now find themselves with equity below what they owe the bank," he said.

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