Tire Lawsuits Could Roll Here - Chicago Sun-times - October 11, 2000

Tire Lawsuits Could Roll Here
By: Mark Skertic
Chicago Sun-times
October 11, 2000

Lawsuits filed nationwide against Ford Motor Co. and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. may end up being heard in a Chicago courtroom.

A panel of federal judges will meet Tuesday in Washington to decide whether to combine, for pretrial hearings, the nearly 100 lawsuits filed against the auto and tire giants.

Some of those involved want the cases overseen by a federal judge in Chicago.

"Ford supports the move to place the consolidated lawsuits in the Northern District of Illinois, which is, essentially, Chicago," Ford spokeswoman Kristine Kinley said.

Bridgestone/Firestone has told the federal Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation, which will make the decision, that it also supports consolidating the pretrial portion of lawsuits against the company in Chicago.

In a rare move, the panel has scheduled next week’s special hearing to consider motions to consolidate the cases.

Both companies face a variety of lawsuits related to wrecks involving Firestone tires mounted on Ford’s best-selling sports-utility vehicle, the Explorer. Bridgestone/Firestone has recalled 6.5. million tires -- brands linked by federal highway safety investigators to 101 deaths across the nation.

The companies are trying to move cases filed in state courts to the federal court system. Next week, they will ask the judicial panel to combine those cases for the pretrial portion of the lawsuit.

It’s a good legal strategy, some experts said. "You have the benefit of consistency, and you have the benefit of only having to do things once," said Northwestern University law professor Steven Lubet.

Chicago attorney Kenneth Moll will argue for consolidating the cases here.

"It’s centrally located, and it’s convenient for all parties," said Moll, who is seeking class action certification for a lawsuit he filed against the companies that include plaintiffs from the United States and Venezuela.

Even if consolidated, they would be separated again after the pretrial work is finished. The judge handling the initial work would not have the authority to continue trying all the cases together, said Joan Steinman, a law professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Kent College of Law.

In late news, auto industry officials could be sentenced up to 15 years in prison for hiding fatal safety problems from government regulators under a bill that passed the House early today. Public outrage over the deaths and injuries official have linked to Firestone tires sped the bill through the House in less than two months, despite opposition from the auto industry and other business groups.

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