Washington Federal lawsuits filed against Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. for its recalled tires will be combined before an Indianapolis judge to make evidence gathering more efficient, a federal judicial panel has ruled.
The ruling to consolidate the case before Chief Judge Sarah Evans Barker of the Southern District of Indiana was applauded on Wednesday by class action attorneys and lawyers representing Bridgestone/Firestone and Ford Motor Co.
"We believe, as many of the plaintiff's attorneys do, that coordinating will make the fact finding more efficient and ultimately lead to a faster resolution," said Bridgestone/Firestone spokeswoman Karen Doyne. "That's in everybody's best interest."
The government has been investigating more than 3,500 complaints about the tires, including reports of 119 deaths and more than 500 injuries.
Some attorneys for victims injured in accidents involving Firestone tires had argued that their cases should be kept separate, arguing a resolution could be held up for years as their lawsuits are lumped in with others.
The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation was not swayed by that argument. The panel noted in its ruling on Tuesday that those who do not want to be included could ask Barker for a transfer.
"Relevant discovery, including expert testimony, will overlap substantially in each action," the panel wrote. Centralization "is thus necessary in order to eliminate duplicative discovery, prevent inconsistent pretrial rulings ... and conserve the resources of the parties, their counsel and the judiciary."
The panel excluded one Texas case from consolidation, saying it involved a different model of Firestone tire than the others.
All the cases claim that Bridgestone/Firestone and usually Ford Motor Co. are responsible for harm caused by defective tires, including property damages, personal injuries and deaths. Many allege that Bridgestone/Firestone's Aug. 9 recall of 6.5 million ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires most used on the Ford Explorer was not broad enough to include all defective models.
Chicago attorney Kenneth Moll, who has filed several class action suits representing victims from around the world, said he will ask Barker to order an expansion of the recall.
"For all those out there with tires that aren't yet replaced, I feel we can finally get to go before the judge and ask for an appropriate action," he said.
Many attorneys said they were surprised by the panel's choice of Indianapolis since none of the sides had asked for that court. Bridgestone/Firestone, Ford and several of the class action attorneys were asking for Chicago, while many of the personal injury lawyers wanted a southern state.