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Burden of Proof
Bridgestone/Firestone Faces Massive Potential Legal Fallout from Tire RecallAired August 10, 2000 - 12:30 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: Bridgestone/Firestone announces a massive recall of automobile tires. Are they about to be hit with a massive number of lawsuits? Already, a family injured last week in Florida filed a lawsuit over the faulty tires, and one of our guests is pursuing a class-action lawsuit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RANDALL SMITHWICK: The whole tire was coming apart, and I lost control, and that's the last thing I remember. The next thing I remember, somebody was looking over me, getting ready to put me on a helicopter, and I was asking how my family was.
GARY CRIGGER, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, BRIDGESTONE/FIRESTONE INC.: At Bridgestone/Firestone nothing is more important to us than the safety of our customers. That's why the reports of vehicle accidents involving our tires are very disturbing.
RALPH PATINO, SMITHWICK FAMILY ATTORNEY: I have seen documents that indicate that Ford and Firestone not only knew about it, but they basically replaced tires in countries such as Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Malaysia with basically the same tire defect.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF with Greta Van Susteren and Roger Cossack.
VAN SUSTEREN: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.
Yesterday executives at Bridgestone/Firestone announced a recall of tires installed on some of America's most popular vehicles. The tires are found on cars manufactured by several automakers, but the most commonly effected is the Ford Explorer.
ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Now, the recall came after dozens of accidents involving the tires were reported to Bridgestone/Firestone, and investigated by the company's engineers, as well as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
On Monday, an attorney representing a family who was injured last week in Florida announced a lawsuit against the Ford -- again Ford, Bridgestone/Firestone, a car dealership, and Sears, Roebuck and Company.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PATINO: The primary reason is to make the public aware of the defective conditions which we believe exist in the Wilderness AT tire, as well as the ATX tire, put out by Firestone and found on about 80 percent of the SUVs in this country at this time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAN SUSTEREN: Joining us today are civil defense lawyer David Donovan; Alexander Barnett, who is pursuing a class-action complaint against Bridgestone/Firestone and Ford Motors; and law professor Jonathon Siegel.
COSSACK: And in the back Karshie Kish (ph), Courtney Eaton (ph), and Jennifer Everett (ph).
Alexander, Alex, I want to go straight to you on this situation. You are the one -- you are representing a family who is pursuing a class-action lawsuit. Now, are you going to bring this lawsuit on behalf of everyone who has ever got the particular kinds of tires that we've -- talking about.
ALEXANDER BARNETT, PLAINTIFF'S ATTORNEY: Well, we do represent everyone nationwide, who's got these tires on their automobiles or SUVs.
COSSACK: I mean, is every one of these tires bad?
BARNETT: Well, I mean, that's what we are going will try to find out, but our information leads us to suggest that the defect goes beyond the tires that are being recalled.
VAN SUSTEREN: Alex, let me ask you two questions, one is just a quick yes, no, how long in your view has Firestone known about this tire problem?
BARNETT: Well, again, we want to find that out in discovery, but the information suggests that they've known about this since probably about 1992 or investigating it since '92.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, let me ask all three of you, according to the "New York Times," there have been 46 deaths associated with these tires. And Roger and I, we are both former criminal defense lawyers, is there any chance, because I will tell you, 46 deaths, if a company knew about this, certainly raises the specter in my mind that someone may be doing some research to see if it is not just a civil liability issue. Is there any risk of that?
BARNETT: Well, again, I mean, part of the lawsuit is predicated on the fact that we believe there may have been information that the company had that this problem was not just a very recent problem that they seem to be claiming in the newspapers, but it went back, in fact, to '92 or perhaps beyond. VAN SUSTEREN: David, let me ask you, in your mind, I know you do civil defense work, but in your mind, if you were representing someone associated with this from one of these companies, would you have any concern, if indeed it turns out that these tires are defective, and if indeed they knew about it, but didn't do anything about it, would you be worried a little bit about somebody at one of those companies?
DAVID DONOVAN, CIVIL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Of course, you would be worried about it. You would have to do the kind of investigation on the defense side that he's talking about doing on the plaintiff's side, you need to collect your documents, talk to your witnesses, talk to your engineers, and find out in fact what the company did know.
But all these questions, of course, assume that a defect in the tire, in fact, caused these accidents.
VAN SUSTEREN: But if there were 46 deaths, let's assume...
COSSACK: And over 200 injuries.
VAN SUSTEREN: ... let's just assume. I don't know, and Alex's case will bear it out either one way or another. But let's just assume it, I mean, forget the civil side, you know, is there a criminal issue if a company in general knows a product is dangerous, and for some reason, you know, doesn't take care of it.
COSSACK: Maybe a manslaughter.
DONOVAN: There could be of course.
JONATHON SIEGEL, CIVIL PROCEDURE LAW PROFESSOR: I agree with David, it would unusual for a matter like this to be pursued criminally, but it is certainly something you would have to think about, certainly something you would want to prepare for.
VAN SUSTEREN: Why would it be unusual?
COSSACK: Because, you know, they just don't do those things against corporations.
VAN SUSTEREN: I got to tell you, 46 deaths is not a small number. That's not an accident, if you know about it.
SIEGEL: I think it would be unusual because the criminal law requires a showing of intent on behalf of the defendant.
VAN SUSTEREN: Manslaughter, reckless disregard for manslaughter.
SIEGEL: But simple negligence is not usually treated criminally.
COSSACK: Criminally is -- all right let's move on.
Alex, you said something I found interesting. You said your preliminary research at least indicates that perhaps, one, there are other tires that may have a default; and, two, the company knew about it. Tell me about that research.
BARNETT: Well, let's just back up for a second. The recall that's been in the paper the last couple of days is it targeted one specific brand of tire, but the company itself has said they are not really sure what the problem is, and they haven't really found that out, and they are going to continue to investigate.
That suggests to me that there may be problems outside just the one specific brand. And certainly it would suggest that the recall should be broader than it is.
COSSACK: Aren't most of these tires -- don't they come out of one particular manufacturing plant in Decatur? isn't that where this problem tire seems to be coming from?
BARNETT: Well, again, that is with respect to one specific type, that is the Wilderness tire that was made in Decatur. But Wilderness was made elsewhere, as I understand it; and, as well, the ATX and ATXII were made throughout the United States and in Mexico. So it is actually broader than just the one plant.
VAN SUSTEREN: John, you are a law professor. Give us an education on class-action. What is a class action? I know that Alex has asked that -- he has filed a case and ask that it be certified as one, but what do you need to do?
SIEGEL: A class action is a case in which one plaintiff represents many. The normal, fundamental principle of our legal system is a principle of participation. If you have a case in court, you are in there personally participating in the resolution of that case.
But in a class action, in this case there might be millions of plaintiffs who have these tires, it would obviously be impractical for all of them to go down and personally participate.
So in a class-action, the concept of participation is replaced by a concept of representation. Alex here, and the named plaintiff, who I believe is named Kate Sanders, will be representing all the people who have Firestone tires, and that one case can resolve all those millions of claims simultaneously.
COSSACK: All right, let's take a break. Up next, how tires are manufactured and what performance and safety are expected of them? Stay with us.
(BEGIN LEGAL BRIEF)
Two Texas inmates were put to death last night in what was the first multiple execution in Texas since June 1997.
Early Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected appeals made by attorneys for both death row inmates.
(END LEGAL BRIEF)
VAN SUSTEREN: We are going to take you now to Atlanta, where there's a rally, a Gore-Lieberman rally. This is the first rally outside their home states, and the state which of course of Connecticut and Tennessee. They are now in Atlanta, across from CNN Center.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Spiritually and psychologically about the warmest this guy has ever received. Thank you very much.
Governor Barnes, thank you. There is just about no compliment that I would cherish more than to be called a northern version of the great Georgia senator, Sam Nunn.
Forty years ago, when I was 18 years old, I watched with awe and excitement as America voted John F. Kennedy to be our first Roman Catholic president of the United States.
When he used his memorable inaugural address to summon us to ask what we could do for our country, I saw a glimpse of how good our nation could be.
Three years later, as a young student in Washington, I participated in Dr. King's March on Washington.
And when he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and told the world that he had a dream, I saw a glimpse of how good America could be.
Later that fall, I came here to the South for the first time, to the state of Mississippi, and I came here to help register African- American voters.
And when I saw all those student volunteers putting their lives on the line, yes, once again I saw how good our nation can be.
Today, my friends, in this great city of Atlanta, Georgia, I am so proud to stand before you as the first Jewish-American lucky enough to be a major party candidate for vice president of the United States.
And when I look at Al Gore, the man who made it possible, and I think about the courage and character that went into making this decision, once again I see a glimpse of how good our nation can be. (APPLAUSE)
So just ask yourself this: If Al Gore is this willing to be this courageous with his first major decision as a presidential candidate, just imagine how courageous he'll be as president working for the working families of America...
... to make their lives better...
... to provide them jobs...
... and give them a first-rate education.
I know Al Gore as a man, not just as a politician or a leader or vice president. And I can tell you, this is a man of family. He is a man of faith. By now, you will know that he and I have been friends for more than a decade, and I can tell you this: If Al Gore does half the job running the country that he and Tipper have done raising their wonderful children, there is no telling what heights America will reach in the new century.
This is a man of courage. This is a man of character, a man of service.
He volunteered and served our country in Vietnam.
For 16 remarkable years, he honored the proud legacy of his father, becoming a leader in civil rights, in the United States Congress. This is also...
This is also a man of values and a man of vision. Long before it was popular, Al and Tipper Gore led a crusade to renew the moral center of this nation. Everything he has done in his life suggests that Al Gore will be a president who works to make families stronger, children safer and parents empowered to pass on their faith and their values to their children.
Now, have you been listening to the nonsense that our opponents have been saying? It's hard to believe, isn't it? Are we going to let them get away with it? No. AUDIENCE: No.
LIEBERMAN: Our opponents like to say, if you can believe this, that the past eight years have been squandered.
LIEBERMAN: Nonsense. The American people are not going to be fooled by that.
I'll tell you, if you're one of the people working in one of the 22 million jobs that have been created in this country since 1993, these haven't been squandered years.
LIEBERMAN: If you're one of the millions of parents who took time off from work to care for a sick child, these eight years have not been squandered.
And if you're one of the millions of people who proudly moved from welfare to work in the last eight years, you know the last years have surely not been squandered.
For eight years, Al Gore has served as a full partner in this great progress, after eight years of this progress and prosperity.
This election this year comes down to one simple question, and I ask you to ask it of your neighbors and friends and fellow Americans: Are we going to elect the old guard that created the problems?
LIEBERMAN: Or are we going to elect a new guard that will continue to solve them? Yes.
There is only one candidate in this election for president who will move us forward...
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Al Gore and Lieberman.
LIEBERMAN: ... and not backwards -- yes, sir...
... only one candidate who will work for working families, fight for those families, only one candidate who will stand on the side of the American people.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor to introduce to you that candidate, our friend, my running mate and next great president of the United States, Albert Gore.
VICE PRES. AL GORE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, thank you.
Thank you, Joe Lieberman.
Isn't he doing a great job?
Thank you very much. It is an honor to be here.
And Governor Roy Barnes, I appreciate you hosting us. I appreciate your advice to me on so many different matters. I want you all to also acknowledge the presence of Georgia's truly wonderful first lady, Marie Barnes, and their daughter Alissa (ph) Barnes.
I want to thank Governor Jim Hunt for his friendship of so many years, for his advice and counsel. And I want all of you to know that he was the man that I entrusted with the difficult job that he performed better than anyone has ever performed it before -- of being in charge of forming the Democratic platform.
And I appreciate your leadership, Governor Jim Hunt, and thank you.
You're going to like that platform. It's for working people. It's for the people, not the powerful.
I want to thank my friend and neighbor, Governor Paul Patton, who is an outstanding governor, an individual who has really helped me quite a bit.
And he is in a state where my dad was in business for 10 years, and we've been close for all this time.
Kentucky's Governor Paul Patton, thank you very much, sir.
My of my other neighbors -- my of my other neighbors to the south, from Alabama, a tremendous governor and leader of that state, a neighbor both to Tennessee and to Georgia, he's doing a wonderful job, Don Siegelman.
Thank you for being here, Don.
He was the first governor in the whole country to endorse me, too, and I appreciate that.
And I want to thank Attorney General Thurbert Baker (ph) for being our master of ceremonies here, and for making history in Georgia, along with Secretary of Labor Michael Thurman (ph)...
... Secretary of State Kathy Cox (ph) and...
... Mayor Bill Campbell and Mrs. Campbell...
... Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin (ph), and Bishop Eddie Long and the New Birth choir.
To all the other distinguished guests, and I want to acknowledge the happy preacher, thank you for being here today.
Let me say before I -- before I turn it on here, I'd like you to join me just for a moment in this sentiment.
Joe Lieberman and I were talking earlier about the legacy of Paul Coverdell and him as a person, and I know this is a partisan gathering, but I know that you also join with us in the sentiment that Paul Coverdell was a dedicated public servant who brought to politics something that we really need today, and that is courtesy and civility.
Joe Lieberman and I join you and regret his passing...
... and we send our condolences to his family.
And in that sentiment, let me also say that we want to elevate this campaign across our nation, to focus on the issues and not negative personal attacks. People are tired of politics as usual. We want to talk about what's right for the American people.
And I want to say how proud I am of Joe Lieberman. We've been crossing the country for a few days now and we've got three months to go. I've served with and known Joe for 15 years. As we say in our part of the country, he's good folks.
He has been an outstanding leader. He was an attorney general before he was a senator.
And I want to quote to you something that he wrote as a young man. He spoke of his journey to register voters in the South when he was a college student. Before he left on that trip, he wrote these words: I go because there is much work to be done. I am an American, and we are one nation or we are nothing.
As I stand here on this stage today, I truly believe that because of Joe Lieberman's courage and character, and his willingness to accept this challenge, we are one step closer to becoming truly one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
We are going to be fighting for economic policies that will benefit the working families of the South and the rest of the country, to raise incomes and standards of living. We're for the people and not the powerful.
I want to fight for you and your family and your community and your future. And that means continuing the prosperity and progress. That means raising the minimum wage. That means...
... giving our country a chance to elevate the quality of our educational system in this country...
... with new ideas and new accountability and new resources.
And it's time to treat teachers like the professionals that they are, with smaller classes and modernized schools.
It means finally taking those medical decisions away from bureaucrats who work for HMOs and don't have a license to practice medicine and don't have a right to play God and give the medical decisions back to the doctors and the nurses and the health care professionals.
It means recognizing that our seniors in America now have prescription drug bills that sometimes rival their Social Security checks. The other side wants to give money to insurance companies and then give you the option of going to insurance companies and saying, please help me with my prescription drug bills.
Well, we're having enough trouble with the insurance companies as it is, but even the insurance companies say that wouldn't work. Joe Lieberman and I fight for people and we stand for the proposition: You elect us and we will give senior citizens a prescription drug benefit under the Medicare program so they can afford to pay their bill.
Now, let's talk about Social Security. The other side wants to privatize a big part of Social Security.
GORE: You remember what it was like, some of the older folks, when counties had poor houses, when Social Security didn't exist.
Let me tell you what they are really talking about on the other side. They want to take 16 percent of the money that goes into the Social Security trust fund and divert it off in to stock market investments. Now, there are two problems with that.
The first problem is this: Social Security works the way it does, as the best program we've ever had in America, because the money that's paid into the fund this year is the money that's used to pay the checks this year. If you take 16 percent of it away, that means you've got to come up with $1 trillion over the next 10 years from somewhere else to make it up. Where's that going to come from? The answer on the other side is: We'll tell you after the election.
Now, the second problem is those stock market investments are based on the idea that the economy is going to be as good in the future indefinitely as it has been for the last eight years.
Now, I hope it is, but if the country adopted the approach that the other side is recommending, you better hold on to your hat where the economy and the stock market are concerned.
And even if it's strong, there are going to be some good investments and some bad investments, and the ones that make bad investments, because it's coming right out of their Social Security, they're going to be asking the Congress for help and there would be an S&L-style bail out.
Now, my approach extends the life of the Social Security trust fund with reforms that take it on into the second half of the next -- of this new century, and I believe that we need to keep Social Security sound. If you elect me, I promise you I will fight to keep Social Security sound and in good shape.
VAN SUSTEREN: You have been listening to Vice President Al Gore and his running mate, Senator Lieberman. They are holding a campaign rally in Centennial Park in Atlanta, Georgia.
We will be back tomorrow with another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF.
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