Ford, Michelin Face Trial in Rollover Suit
By Lawrence Viele
Edinburg, Texas, June 3 (Bloomberg) -- Ford Motor Co. and Michelin & Cie. face a trial tomorrow in Texas state court in a wrongful death suit brought by the family of a couple killed in a rollover wreck after a tire failure.
Raul Aguirre Pedraza, 48, and his wife Ana Maria Martinez de Aguirre, 45, were killed in January 2000 when their 1995 Explorer flipped on a highway near Monterrey, Mexico, after a tire-tread separation. Ford says the wreck was caused by driver error.
It's the fourth time Ford will go to trial to defend the sport-utility vehicle's stability, which came under scrutiny after federal safety officials linked Firestone tires made for Explorers to 271 deaths. No jury has found Ford liable for alleged Explorer defects, and the automaker has blamed the wrecks on Bridgestone Corp.'s Firestone unit.
``For the past 18 months and beyond, Ford has been blaming Firestone for tread separation-related rollovers,'' said Tab Turner, the Aguirre family's attorney. ``In this particular case, Ford will have to defend its product without having the benefit of Firestone to blame.''
Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford, which is the world's No. 2 automaker behind General Motors Corp., disputes claims that the Explorer is unstable.
``Our condolences go out to anyone who is involved in an accident, but this tragedy was a result of speeding, not wearing seatbelts and driver error,'' Ford said in a statement.
Michelin spokeswoman Nancy Banks said: ``We are confident that the tire was as not at fault in this very unfortunate tragic accident.''
The Clermont Ferrand, France-based company, which is Europe's largest tiremaker, makes tires under the Michelin, B.F. Goodrich, Uniroyal and Kleber brands.
Ford shares rose 5 cents to $17.70 in morning trading, while Michelin rose 3 cents to 41.83 euros in Paris.
The Aguirre family sued in Hidalgo County District Court in September 2000, accusing Michelin and Ford of negligence in product design.
The suit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. Turner would not say how much he would ask the jury to award the family if Michelin and Ford are found responsible for the wreck.
In the accident, the Explorer rolled four times after a Uniroyal tire failed, Turner said. The tire had about 30,000 miles on it.
Ford says the driver, not the vehicle, is to blame for the accident.
``According to the police report, after a tire blowout, the driver braked abruptly, oversteered and then lost control of his vehicle,'' the company said.
In February, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rejected Firestone's request to conduct a full investigation into the Explorer's safety. NHTSA determined the Explorer reacts the same as other vehicles in its class after a tire-tread separation.