A federal court has ordered the Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. to turn over consumer complaint, warranty and accident information related to its automobile tires to government investigators.
The U.S. District Court here upheld a request by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to see Firestone data in the government's investigation of an alleged safety defect in the Firestone 500 steel-belted radial tire.
NHTSA last month called on Firestone to recall the estimated 13 million Firestone 500's - which the company stopped making last year - still on the road.
NHTSA cited thousands of consumer complaints about problems with the tire - ranging from trad separation to blowouts - which have caused death or injury to dozens of persons. Complaints against Firestone ran considerably higher than complaints against all other domestic and foreign tires checked NHTSA alleged.
But Firestone stood firm on its contention that the tire is safe, choosing instead to blame motorists for improperly inflating the tires. Underinflated tires are a major cause of failure, the company claims.
And in hearings before the NHTSA over its proposed recall, Firestone lawyers claimed that NHTSA had not shown one safety-related defect in the tire, and was basing its judgement on what Firestone called "unsubstantisted" consumer data.
But at the same time, Firestone hired Clark Clifford to negotiate a possible scaled-down settlement on the proposed recall - which industry analysis say could cost the company an estimated $200 million.
And Firestone attorneys have continued to fight government efforts to see compnay consumer information, claiming that the government request would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and would take months to comply with.
But yesterday U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Flannery ordered Firestone to turn over the information to NHTSA, including four years' worth of genral manufacturing information, consumer complaints, suits against Firestone for damages due to accidents and other production information.
"It cannot be said in this case that Firestone will be severely hampered in conducting its business if it is forced finally to produce information which it has known for six months was being sought," Flannery said in his order.
Firestone officials had no comment on yesterday's action because the company had not had an opportunity to see the decision.