State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. took exception to an Aug. 16 Los Angeles Times article which reported a State Farm spokesman as saying that the insurer had noticed an unusually high accident rate involving Firestone tires and had started making complaints about the problems to the tire maker as early as 1997.
According to that article, Bill Sirola of State Farm had also stated that the insurer had taken its concerns, in the form of a report to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), to the government in 1999, but had not gotten a response from that agency.
However, a Reuter’s report released later the same day attributed statements to State Farm spokesman Steve Vogel denying that the insurer had alerted Firestone to the trend with its tires. Instead, the insurer had merely sought reimbursement on behalf of policyholders in cases where the tires were at fault, he said.
Vogel did confirm that State Farm had alerted NHTSA by e-mail in July 1998 and by telephone in mid-1999 to the increasing number of claims in which potential Firestone tire failures were involved. He further stated that he did not know how many of the cases involved recently recalled tires.
A spokeswoman for Firestone reportedly denied that the company had ever received any formal report about a problem with its tires from State Farm. On Aug 15, the NHTSA said it was investigating at least 62 deaths, more than 100 injuries and 779 complaints linked to failures of Bridgestone and Firestone fires.
On Aug. 9, Firestone announced the recall of Firestone ATX and ATX II tires made in North America, and Wilderness AT tires made at its Decatur, Ill., plant. According to the Reuter’s article, Firestone also announced that it would complete the recall by spring 2001 instead of the previously projected summer 2000.
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