Another Settlement By Firestone

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- In a widely distributed story the AP reported that Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. has settled, for an undisclosed amount, the next lawsuit scheduled for trial over a tire separation on a Ford Explorer that rolled over, a spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday.

"It has been settled. I don't have any details and I really can't speak about it much, because the court has entered an order limiting conversation," said Christine Karbowiak, spokeswoman for the Nashville-based tire maker.

Sources said only that the settlement was for several million dollars in the case, which involved the death of Margarita Gonzalez and injury of her son Alfredo during a crash last year near Kerrville, Texas. Trial was set for Sept. 10 in Brownsville, Texas.

Paula Wyatt, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, and the plaintiffs themselves could not be reached for comment. Skip Rutherford, who was hired to handle media requests, would not confirm that a settlement had been made. He said the family would have a statement today.

The settlement could leave Ford Motor Co. as the lone defendant -- a reversal of the situation earlier this month in nearby McAllen, in which Bridgestone/Firestone went to trial and blamed Ford for an accident that left a woman paralyzed. Ford settled that case out of court.

As the jury was deliberating, the case ended abruptly Friday when Bridgestone/Firestone agreed to pay $7.5 million in addition to the $350,000 it had already paid to cover medical expenses for Marisa Rodriguez.

If the Brownsville case goes to trial, would Ford play the same blame game?

"It's too soon for me to comment on our possible defense if this does go to trial," said Ford spokesman Ken Zino, adding that the Detroit automaker is in talks with attorneys for the Gonzalez family.

"If we can reach an agreement to settle, we'd like to. We'd rather spend money compensating people hurt in the use of our product, through the use of a defective tire, than on litigation," he said.

Bruce Kaster, who specializes in defective tire cases and is involved in suits against both Ford and Firestone, said he was surprised to hear that Bridgestone/Firestone had agreed to a settlement, but he would be even more surprised if Ford doesn't.

Ford has not yet gone to trial over a case involving a tire tread separation and subsequent Explorer rollover. Zino said that during an April trial involving a fatal rollover accident, a jury found no stability defect in the Explorer.

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