ANNAPOLIS – Maryland recently received more than $500,000 from a $51.5 million settlement agreement between Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and 53 states and U.S. territories, but not a dime will go to consumers with complaints.
A separate, roughly $10 million, fund will pay restitution to consumers who filed complaints with the company and were denied, provided they are not rejected again. The company has already paid $450 million to settle individual complaints.
From the $525,000 Maryland received from the settlement, $25,000 will go to the attorney general’s office for legal fees. The General Assembly will decide next session what to spend the remainder on, said Bill Gruhn, an assistant attorney general.
Meanwhile, it’s unknown how many Maryland complaints will be paid through the settlement because state figures are not excerpted from the 20 percent of the 300,000 consumers complaining of tire failure who are eligible to resubmit claims.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration received 60 complaints — most about tread separation and tire blowouts — from Marylanders. But unless these consumers also filed a complaint with Bridgestone/Firestone, they’re out of luck.
The company doesn’t deal with NHTSA complaints, said Chris Karbowiak, Bridgestone/Firestone vice president of public affairs.
More than 5,000 consumers nationwide complained of tire failure to NHTSA.
Within 60 days of the Nov. 8 settlement, any consumer denied a refund under the Bridgestone/Firestone Voluntary Safety Tire Recall Reimbursement Program or Customer Satisfaction Program will receive a letter explaining how to resubmit their claim.
If the company denies the claim a second time, the consumer can request an arbitrator examine it for free.
“We’re doing this to make sure that we didn’t drop the ball on anyone,” Karbowiak said.
Of the $51.5 million settlement, $26.5 million was paid out to the states, $5 million will fund a national public service announcement campaign, about $10 million will pay for state investigations and about $10 million will go toward consumer restitution.
The settlement occurred after the United States, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Washington, D.C., alleged Bridgestone/Firestone misrepresented its tires and failed to tell consumers about tire replacement programs abroad, according to the Maryland attorney general’s office.
“While we take serious issue with many of the states’ allegations, we believe that significant portions of the settlement, such as those related to consumer education, are very much in line with the company’s own initiatives,” said John T. Lampe, head of Bridgestone/Firestone.
In August 2000, the company recalled more than 6 million tires including the P235/75 R15 Firestone Radial ATX, P235/75 R15 Firestone Radial ATXII and P235/75 R15 Firestone Wilderness AT. In October 2000, it recalled all Firestone Wilderness AT tires in the P235/75 R15 and P255/70 R16 sizes used on 1995-98 Ford Explorers and Mercury Mountaineers.
In addition to monetary awards, the settlement included a provision for Bridgestone/Firestone to provide consumers with safety information about proper maintenance, load capacity, air pressure and warranty information at the time the tires are purchased.
The company also agreed to accurately represent the safety characteristics and expected life of tires and tread patterns and to not make claims about tires’ performance or safety without scientific evidence to back them up.