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Judges to Decide Whether to Consolidate Firestone, Ford Tire Lawsuits

Aired October 17, 2000 - 1:25 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Federal regulators are linking 18 more deaths to crashes involving Firestone tires. That brings the total to 119 deaths. All the while, a panel of judges is presiding over a hearing to decide whether lawsuits against the tire maker and Ford will be consolidated.

CNN Financial News correspondent Kelli Arena with more on that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KELLI ARENA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dozens of personal injury lawyers gathered at a hotel just outside Washington Monday to discuss their strategy ahead of today's hearing.

DONALD SLAVIK, ATTY. INFO. EXCHANGE GROUP: Try to reduce the cost and time that's necessary to get these cases to trial and get them resolved.

ARENA: The hearing, to be held in federal court in Washington, is important because if the panel of judges rules to consolidate suits against Bridgestone/Firestone and Ford Motor Company, the judge overseeing the lawsuits will have jurisdiction over all pretrial proceedings.

MARY PAT VILES, VILES LAW FIRM: That judge is the one that's got an incredible, awesome responsibility of overseeing the testimony and the documents and the paperwork, discovery and depositions along the way.

ARENA: But many personal injury lawyers do not think consolidation is in their clients' best interest.

SLAVIK: Each case is different, that these are not all Wilderness ATs, these are not all Explorers, these occur under various circumstances. The laws that apply in the end in each various state are quite different.

ARENA: What's more, the process means accident victims may have to wait longer to receive any award. One lawyer representing some of those victims says there's still a lot the public does not know and that answers lie in Firestone's adjustment data comparing tires made in the U.S. to tires made in Japan. BRUCE KASTER, PLAINTIFF'S ATTORNEY: I believe that the adjustment records are going to give us a comparative analysis of why these tires fail, what the mode of failure is, and when Firestone knew what the problem was: tread belt separation.

ARENA (on camera): Firestone says it still does not know what caused the problems with its tires. Company engineers and outside experts continue their investigation.

Kelli Arena, CNN Financial News, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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