WASHINGTON – Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. will pay $41.5 million in a settlement to head off lawsuits by states over defective tires the company recalled more than a year ago.
Each of the 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands will get $500,000, according to a copy of the settlement.
Nashville, Tenn.-based Bridgestone/Firestone also wnd $5 million on a consumer education campaign and $10 million to reimburse attorneys' fees for the states.
Bridgestone/Firestone announced a recall of 6.5 million ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires on Aug. 9, 2000, after receiving reports that some tires suddenly failed. Since then, federal investigators have documented 271 deaths from thousands of accidents involving the tires.
Many of the accidents involved rollovers of the Ford Explorer, the world's best-selling sport utility vehicle, which used Wilderness AT tires as standard equipment.
Attorneys general have been investigating whether Bridgestone/Firestone and Ford were aware of problems with the tires long before the recall was announced. The settlement heads off lawsuits that could have resulted from the investigation, which was led by Tennessee Attorney General Paul Summers.
Summers was expected to announce the settlement Thursday in Nashville.
The federal government closed its investigation last month after Bridgestone/Firestone agreed to recall 3.5 million more Wilderness ATs.
Federal investigators found the design of the Wilderness AT and the ATX produced prior to May 1998 could cause higher stress at the edge of the steel belt and lead to a separation.
Bridgestone/Firestone added a thicker strip of rubber between the two steel belts on the sides of the tire and changed the tire's material composition in the spring of 1998.
The federal investigation focused attention on tire safety and had far-reaching consequences for consumers and Bridgestone/Firestone and Ford, both of which set aside hundreds of millions of dollars to deal with lawsuits. Congress passed a law last year updating the nation's tire standards, requiring government tests of rollover risk and other changes to auto safety laws.
Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone worked together at the beginning of the investigation, but their century-long relationship publicly unraveled during congressional hearings when officials from each company blamed the other for the problems. Last May, the two companies severed ties.