December 13, 2019

Attorney general keeping tabs on Firestone inquiry

AUGUSTA – Maine is part of a multistate inquiry into how Bridgestone/Firestone and Ford Motor Co. handled the recall of 6.5 million tires.

Maine joined the multistate investigation because of the possibility that consumers in the state have been put at risk because of recalled Firestone tires.

“We have found in recent years that rather than each state going after some corporate giant on their own that it’s easier for the respondent and easier for the tates to kind of divide up the workload and distribute the information among our group,” Maine Attorney General Andrew Ketterer said Thursday.

Under pressure from federal investigators, Firestone agreed last month to recall Wilderness AT, ATX and ATX II tires because their treads were peeling off at high speed, causing crashes. Investigators are looking at the tires in connection with 101 deaths and hundreds of injuries, many involving Ford Explorers.

Ford and Firestone have been criticized by members of Congress, consumer groups and personal-injury lawyers for not responding when problems with the tires began to surface a few years ago.

Maine will assist with the inquiry, though much of it will be handled by larger states that tend to take the lead on such inquiries because they have bigger staffs and more “muscle,” Ketterer said.

“We’re in it, we’re at the information-gathering stage,” he said.

The combined effort could accelerate each state’s investigation and allow Firestone and Ford to deal with a single group instead of individual states.

The company has said it would cooperate fully. The attorneys general plan a conference call and a face-to-face meeting with Bridgestone-Firestone within the next two weeks, a Bridgestone/Firestone representative said earlier this week. No schedule had been set.

Inquiries do not always result in lawsuits, though individual states can decide to file them, Ketterer added.

“Lots of times, we get the information and resolve things without suits,” he said.

Attorneys general learned during the big tobacco lawsuit, which resulted in a $206 billion settlement with states, that pooling their resources can make them a powerful group to contend with, Ketterer said. Corporations and attorneys general learned that there is strength in unity, he said.

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