October 2, 2000

Statement by Joan Claybrook on Disclosure of Firestone Court Documents

Today, Firestone agreed to release important information to the public by October 9, 2000, that it previously sought to be kept secret under a protective order in the Houston, Texas case of Peggy Turner Trahan v. Elvin Hayes Firestone, Firestone Motor Company and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. The case involved injuries sustained in a Ford Explorer/Firestone ATX tire accident. Ford last week entered into a similar agreement in the same case, saying that it will also release a large quantity of documents without a protective order.

At a hearing in the Harris County Court this morning on the plaintiff's request to release documents from the protective order, the plaintiff and Firestone/Bridgestone will tell the court that the company will release to the public all test results, quality assurance and adjustment data, and all correspondence between Ford and Firestone concerning specifications and criteria from Ford and the manufacture, design, testing and failure of the ATX tire. Test protocols or procedures, design specifications and production records will not be released to the public at this time, but the plaintiff in an agreement with Bridgestone/Firestone is reserving the right to return to the court after reviewing the documents still protected and ask for further releases in the public interest.

This very important agreement -- and the right to return to the court for future disclosures -- opens the door for public review and evaluation of the lethal combination of the Firestone tires and the Ford Explorer. The decisions to cover up the defects, the company disclaimers about the source of the tire defect, and Ford/Firestone's decision to limit the recall to only 6.5 million out of 47 million tires manufactured are all issues that these newly disclosed documents should help to resolve.

Public Citizen is very grateful to Peggy Turner Trahan and her family and to attorney Richard Mithoff for seeking the disclosure of these documents in their lawsuit, negotiating this agreement, and securing the right to return to court for further disclosures after they review the remaining protected documents. Without their help, much information would remain secret, undercutting the public role of overseeing government evaluations of the cause of the defect and making sure all the bad tires are recalled. The documents are also important for framing new regulatory rules to make sure the coverup in this case does not happen in the future. This case also highlights the adverse public policy impact of protective orders on health and safety information the public should know.

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