Squabbles Between Ford, Firestone May Damage Their Legal Defense
                    October 9, 2000

                    By MILO GEYELIN
                    Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

                    Even defendants who despise each other usually present a united front
                    to avoid helping plaintiffs in court. But Ford Motor Co. and
                    Bridgestone/Firestone are ignoring that legal maxim as they battle
                    lawsuits involving Ford Explorer rollovers and Firestone tires.

                                         Defense lawyers experienced in product-defect
                                         suits say the companies' very public squabble
                                         could spell trouble for both Ford and
                                         Bridgestone/Firestone as the cases head to trial.

                    "It's a plaintiffs lawyer's dream when co-defendants are fighting among
                    themselves," says Sheila Birnbaum, a prominent product-liability
                    defense lawyer at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in New York,
                    which isn't involved in the tire litigation. "All the plaintiffs have to do is
                    get them into a courtroom and let them point fingers at each other and
                    walk to a judgment. As a defense lawyer, you always try to work out
                    differences among the co-defendants."

                    Last month, during widely watched congressional hearings, Ford and
                    Firestone pointedly faulted each other for the injuries and deaths that
                    have resulted during the 10 years the popular Ford sport-utility vehicle
                    has been on the road. In August, Firestone recalled 6.5 million tires,
                    many of which were original equipment on Explorers, for a potential
                    tread-separation defect.

                    Ford and Firestone, a unit of Japan's Bridgestone Corp., won't discuss
                    how the flap could affect the lawsuits they face. But plaintiffs lawyers
                    are already planning to use their statements against them.

                    "Now I've got the Goliaths fighting each other, instead of David fighting
                    Goliath," says Bruce Kaster, an Orlando, Fla., plaintiffs lawyer and
                    veteran of cases against Ford and Firestone involving tire-tread
                    separations and vehicle rollovers.

                    That rift will be difficult to paper over in upcoming court proceedings,
                    lawyers say. Mr. Kaster says he scans every newspaper he can find for
                    articles quoting Ford and Firestone executives blaming each other for
                    the tire recall debacle. "What's going to happen now is we're going to
                    start calling those executives that have been so free to speak and
                    depose them. We're not going to let them get away and hide the ball,"
                    he says.

                    Adds Dallas plaintiffs attorney John W. Bickel, who lost a case against
                    Ford and Firestone in 1997 but isn't involved in the current litigation: "If
                    they're pointing the finger at each other, there's almost an assumption
                    of liability. The jury just has to decide which one."

                    The potential for conflict among corporate defendants frequently arises
                    in large liability cases such as securities fraud claims naming both
                    publicly held companies and their accountants, or in suits against
                    medical device manufacturers in which doctors and distributors are also

                    Another area where such splits have arisen is tobacco litigation. Tiny
                    Liggett Group, a unit of Vector Group Ltd., turned on its four largest
                    competitors, helping lawyers representing states in suits against the
                    industry negotiate $246 billion in settlements. Last summer, in the giant
                    Florida class action brought by injured smokers, Liggett's chairman,
                    Bennett LeBow, testified against his onetime allies, assailing them for
                    their business practices and their positions on smoking and health. The
                    Miami jury returned a record punitive damage award of $144.87 billion
                    against the industry's top five cigarette makers. But Ligget's share of
                    the award, $790 million, was proportionally lower than that of the other
                    defendants, based on each company's market share.

                    "Certainly to the extent that you have somebody else in the courtroom
                    other than the plaintiff either explicitly or implicitly attacking your
                    conduct it doesn't make it any easier," says Philip Morris Cos. associate
                    general counsel William Ohlemeyer.

                    Some companies go out of their way to ensure a joint defense. When
                    plaintiffs lawyers launched a wave of suits over an alleged blood disorder
                    caused by the now-banned dietary supplement L-tryptophan during the
                    1990s, they named both the Japanese chemical company that made it,
                    Showa Denko KK, and its U.S. distributors.

                    Showa Denko moved quickly to pacify the distributors by creating a
                    fund to pay for their defense and any court judgments. "Liability for
                    L-tryptophan went all the way from Japan, starting with the
                    manufacturer, to the corner grocery store," says Washington, D.C.,
                    attorney Richard Hinds, whose firm, Cleary, Gottlieb, Stein & Hamilton,
                    represented Showa Denko. With the distributors as potential
                    adversaries, he says, Showa Denko's strategy was to defend them. "As
                    the price of that, we got to call the shots," he says. The strategy helped
                    contain the Japanese company's overall litigation exposure.

                    Co-defendants frequently sign joint defense pacts to share information,
                    strategies and costs. "Sometimes, co-defendants agree to split defense
                    verdicts so they won't fight among themselves or they'll agree to
                    arbitrate any apportionment of damages," says Ms. Birnbaum. "It's all in
                    an effort to avoid being in a courtroom where the parties are blaming
                    each other."

                    In fact, Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone have a joint defense pact under
                    which they have shared confidential information, among other things. In
                    the past they worked closely and presented a united front. In rollover
                    suits alleging both that Firestone's tires are defective and that the
                    Explorer is unstable, the two companies have consistently pointed to
                    outside factors as the culprit, such as worn tires or driver error.

                    Indeed, when the Ford and Firestone crisis first blew up in August,
                    following a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
                    that first identified a spike in accidents involving certain Firestone tires,
                    the two companies responded in lockstep. Firestone agreed to share
                    confidential warranty claims and other records to help Ford pinpoint the
                    cause of the tread separations, while Ford agreed to pay a portion of
                    Firestone's recall cost.

                    But after Firestone conceded a possible manufacturing defect at its tire
                    plant in Decatur, Ill., Ford began to distance itself. And last month, the
                    rift spilled into the open during testimony before two congressional
                    committees looking into the debacle.

                    "First, this is a tire issue, not a vehicle issue," Ford's president and chief
                    executive, Jacques Nasser, told a House panel. Countered Firestone
                    Executive Vice President John Lampe before a Senate committee: "We
                    firmly believe that the tire is only part of the overall safety problem."

                    Last week the war of words escalated. Bridgestone/Firestone's
                    Venezuela unit, Bridgestone/Firestone Venezolano CA, refused to join
                    Ford in negotiating possible settlements with victims of Explorer
                    rollovers involving tire tread separations in that country. "All along," said
                    Bridgestone/Firestone's Venezuelan unit in a statement, the company
                    "has emphatically maintained that it bears no responsibility [for the
                    accidents] because the tires provided by the assembler were
                    manufactured according to specifications given by the vehicle maker."

                    Ford's Venezuelan unit, Ford de Venezuela, met with about 50 accident
                    victims Wednesday and shot back in a statement: "The evidence
                    demonstrates the problem involves the tire."

                    Neither company will say how many rollover suits involving Explorers
                    and tread separations are now pending, though a half dozen have been
                    scheduled for trial next year. And while their joint defense agreement is
                    still in place, it is unclear to what extent the two companies will
                    cooperate in defending rollover injury and death suits.

                    "We will look at each case individually," says Ford spokeswoman Susan
                    Krusel. "We're still trying to work out how we're going to work out
                    these issues." Where the two companies still have common interests,
                    says Firestone spokesman Donald Adonitis, "I would hope we can
                    continue to work together."

                    One indication will come as lawyers for Ford and Firestone try to
                    consolidate about 100 suits pending in federal courts around the
                    country to bring them all before a single judge for pretrial preparation.
                    The move would benefit both companies by vastly streamlining the
                    suits. But a key issue has been where to send the cases -- to a federal
                    court close to Bridgestone's U.S. headquarters in Nashville, to Ford's
                    hometown near Detroit, or to some other federal jurisdiction.

                    A decision will be up to a panel of federal judges scheduled to hear from
                    both companies, as well as plaintiffs lawyers, next week in Washington.
                    But Ford and Firestone, says one lawyer involved in the negotiations,
                    have already reached a compromise venue -- U.S. District Court in

                    Write to Milo Geyelin at milo.geyelin@wsj.com