September 10, 2002 - Ford, Firestone In Settlement Talks

Lawyers for Ford Motor Co. and Bridgestone Corp's Firestone unit were in last-minute settlement talks on Tuesday with plaintiffs in a lawsuit over a 1999 rollover accident that killed one person and injured four, a Firestone spokesman said. Although talks are continuing, the company does not expect to reach a settlement and opening arguments in the trial are expected to begin in a Los Angeles Court on Wednesday, Firestone spokesman Dan MacDonald said.

Cristina Hernandez, the driver and a college student at the time, was injured in the Halloween accident outside of Bakersfield, California, when the left rear tire of her 1997 Ford Explorer lost its tread and the vehicle rolled over. The sport utility vehicle was equipped with Firestone tires. One of the passengers, Catherine Dizon, was thrown from the vehicle and killed, and Hernandez and three other passengers were hurt in the accident.

If the Hernandez case goes to trial, it would be one of the few lawsuits involving Ford and Bridgestone's Firestone unit to be heard by a jury.

Only one such case has gone to a jury so far, and Firestone, the only company left in the case, settled before a verdict was returned. 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 Explorer sport utility vehicles.

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