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Ford, Firestone Settle Rollover Lawsuit

Thursday 6:37 pm ET

LOS ANGELES September 19, 2002 Reuters reported that Ford Motor Co. and Bridgestone Corp. unit Firestone settled a lawsuit on Thursday brought by a college student who suffered brain injuries as a result of a 1999 rollover accident involving her Ford Explorer, the plaintiff's lawyer said on Thursday.

The settlement amount was not disclosed and the companies did not admit liability in the agreement that ended one of the few rollover cases to go trial in the United States, attorney John Denove told Reuters.

"I can't tell you the amount of settlement but the plaintiff is hoping that that kind of settlement will make (the companies) understand that they can't get away with that kind of conduct," Denove said. "They did not admit to liability. They will never admit to any liability even though everyone agrees that these were defective tires."

As part of the agreement, the companies asked for the return of the de-treaded left rear tire that allegedly caused the Oct. 31, 1999, accident on a highway near Bakersfield, California, John Rowell, another attorney for plaintiff, said.

The settlement was reached late on Thursday morning during a week-long break in what was expected to be a three-month trial in Los Angeles, Denove said. The settlement negotiations had begun again a day earlier.

"They made us an offer that the clients couldn't refuse," Rowell said.

In the Sept. 11 opening statements, Denove told jurors that his 21-year-old client, Cristina Hernandez, suffered brain injuries and post-traumatic stress that probably ended her dream of becoming a surgeon when the tire lost its tread and her 1997 Ford Explorer rolled over, killing one of her passengers.

Ford and Firestone attorneys argued that the tire had been damaged long before the tread separated from the steel belt and that Hernandez's injuries would not prevent her from becoming a surgeon.

Firestone spokesman Dan MacDonald said the company was pleased to have reached a settlement in the Hernandez case.

"We are always open to a settlement that is acceptable to both parties and we are pleased that we could work something out in this case," MacDonald said.

If the jury had rendered a verdict, the case would have been one of the first in the United States to establish whether the companies were liable in tire-related accidents with the Explorer.

Federal regulators have linked defective Firestone tires to crashes that killed 271 people and injured hundreds more. Many of those tires were installed as standard equipment on Ford Explorers and the company spent millions of dollars recalling tires and replacing them.