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Firestone faces trial on tire rollover

BAY CITY, Texas, April 3 Reuters has reported that Bridgestone Corp.'s Firestone unit will stand trial on Thursday in a Texas courtroom for a 1999 rollover accident that critically injured a college student and hurt two others.

Attorneys will be seeking more than $70 million in damages from Firestone, according to court records. Much of that would go to the parents of Erin Brunner, 22, of Hartland, Wis., who received a major brain injury in the accident and now requires 24-hour-a-day care.

It will be only the second time Firestone has faced a jury on charges involving accidents of Ford Explorer sport utility vehicles equipped with Firestone Wilderness AT tires. A similar lawsuit in McAllen, Texas, was settled in August as deliberations entered a fourth day.

Both Firestone and Ford have reached out-of-court settlements in hundreds of personal injury trials across the country. Ford settled the Brunner case early last year.

The trial, being held before Matagorda County District Judge Craig Estlinbaum in Bay City, Texas, differs from many other lawsuits facing Firestone nationwide. In this case, the tire tread did not separate and the Ford Motor Co.(F - news) Explorer was pulling a U-Haul International Inc. trailer.

Other plaintiffs include Lesley Milberger of Bay City, Texas, who owned the Explorer, and Sally Kowalik of Duluth, Minnesota, who was driving when the accident occurred.

According to court documents, the three women had been students at the University of California - Santa Barbara. They loaded the U-Haul following final exams and left for Texas late on June 17, 1999.

The accident occurred at 4:30 p.m. the following day about three miles east of Kent, Texas on Interstate 10. Both Brunner and Milberger were thrown from the vehicle, according to court documents.

Federal regulators have linked the tread separation of Firestone Wilderness AT, ATX and ATX II tires, mostly on Ford's popular Explorer sport utility vehicles, with rollover accidents that caused 271 deaths and more than 800 injuries.

Firestone recalled 6.5 million of the tires in August 2000 while Ford voluntarily recalled another 13.0 million of them in May 2001. The latter offer ended Sunday.

The only other case involving Firestone Wilderness tires that has gone to trial involved the Joel Rodriguez family of Pharr, Texas. His wife, Marisa, suffered a brain stem injury and is now partially paralyzed.

Firestone settled that complaint for a reported $7.5 million while the jury was still out. Ford had previously settled for about $6.0 million.