Judicial Panel Consolidates Over 60 Tire-Recall Lawsuits
                    October 26, 2000

                    By MILO GEYELIN and TIMOTHY AEPPEL
                    Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

                    Moving to break a logjam of lawsuits against Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.
                    and Ford Motor Co., a judicial panel bundled together more than 60
                    class-action and individual suits involving rollover accidents connected to
                    tire-tread separations, then assigned them to a federal judge in

                                         The step forward in that legal case came as
                                         another tire maker, Goodyear Tire & Rubber
                                         Co., conceded there have been at least 15
                                         deaths and about 120 injuries allegedly linked to
                                         tread separations on some of its light-truck
                    tires used mainly on commercial vehicles, pickups and vans. Goodyear
                    says it has received claims involving injuries or fatalities arising from 30
                    accidents since 1994, and leading to 25 lawsuits, five of which have
                    already been settled.

                    The legal storm over Firestone tires and Ford vehicle's problems is still
                    crescendoing. Wednesday, the Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation
                    in Washington assigned the federal cases against Ford and Firestone to
                    Chief U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker, a former U.S. attorney in
                    southern Indiana who was appointed to the federal bench by President
                    Reagan in 1984.

                    The panel's selection of a judge was being closely monitored by both
                    companies and the plaintiffs lawyers who have filed 67 class-action and
                    individual suits in federal courts against Ford and Firestone, which is
                    owned by Japan's Bridgestone Corp. The suits started piling up after
                    Firestone recalled 6.5 million tires in August because of a possible
                    manufacturing defect causing the tires to shred apart at highway
                    speeds. Most of the tires in question were mounted on Explorers, which
                    in turn have experienced a high number of injuries and deaths from
                    rollovers connected to tire failures.

                    The pending suits blame both Firestone and Ford for manufacturing
                    defects and are seeking class-action status for tens of thousands of
                    potential claimants. These include accident-injury and wrongful-death
                    victims nationwide, as well as some owners of Explorers generally, who
                    claim the value of their vehicles have diminished because of the
                    controversy. In addition, at least two federal suits are seeking to force
                    Firestone to broaden its recall to include all tires mounted on Ford

                    The multi-district panel ruled there were enough similarities among the
                    claims to warrant consolidating them before Judge Barker. The panel's
                    decision consolidates the cases for evidence-gathering and to resolve
                    procedural and legal questions, including whether the suits meet legal
                    standards required to proceed as class actions. Lawyers on both sides
                    said they were pleased with the decision.

                                   Spotlight Shifts to Goodyear

                         15 deaths, 120 injuries linked to 30 accidents since 1994.
                         Tires involved: 16-inch Load Range E tires including the popular
                         Goodyear Wrangler AT and HT.
                         Vehicles involved: trailers, passenger vans and large sport-utility
                         25 lawsuits filed, some settled, some pending.
                         NHTSA received 58 reports alleging failure of 98 Goodyear
                         Wrangler tires over at least a three-year time period.

                    Source: Goodyear and NHTSA

                    News that Goodyear tires also were being blamed in a series of
                    accidents, reported in Wednesday's Los Angeles Times, adds to safety
                    concerns for tires on heavy vehicles. "Up until now, [Goodyear's] done a
                    good job of keeping this quiet," says Christine Spagnoli, a Los Angeles
                    attorney representing several claims against Goodyear, including one
                    involving an accident in Saudi Arabia, where many Firestone tires failed.
                    She notes that, as often happens in such tire-related cases, the tire
                    maker has insisted on keeping virtually all documents related to its
                    lawsuits sealed, claiming they contain trade secrets.

                    The Akron, Ohio, tire maker says it began investigating the problem
                    about five years ago when claims began coming in. After studying the
                    manufacturing processes and the tires, the company added a nylon
                    layer over the steel belts.

                    "While we were going through this process of looking at these tires,
                    what we did notice was a change in the vehicles these were going on --
                    they were getting much heavier," says John Perduyn, a Goodyear
                    spokesman. Added weight in a vehicle would increase the stress on the
                    tires and could contribute to tire failures. Goodyear says it didn't
                    identify any defect in the tires, so it didn't notify federal safety officials
                    about their probe. The company says that in every case where it was
                    able to study the tires that lost their treads, Goodyear determined that
                    it was the result of factors such as hitting something on the road, a
                    puncture, overloading or under-inflation. In the wake of the recent
                    publicity, the company says it decided to contact the National Highway
                    Traffic Safety Administration "to touch base with them and give them
                    the information we have."

                    The NHTSA has received 58 reports, involving one fatality, of 98
                    Goodyear light-truck tires over at least a three-year time period. The
                    agency says it has not opened a preliminary inquiry into the Goodyear
                    tire, which would be the first step in any probe that might lead to a
                    recall, but is "monitoring" the situation. The NHTSA relies on its Office of
                    Defects Investigation to determine when to open inquiries, but its
                    approach has come under criticism from members of Congress, who
                    have seen it as either too quick or, in the case of Firestone, too slow to

                    The agency has said it does not have a uniform-threshold test for
                    identifying a defect, noting that some products, such as tires, are
                    expected to fail, while others, such as seat belts, are expected to work
                    100% of the time.

                    -- Stephen Power contributed to this article.

                    Write to Milo Geyelin at milo.geyelin@wsj.com and Timothy Aeppel at