|NMU||FLORIDA & GEORGIA||Secret Courts||Oct 5, 2000|
Two courts unseal records in Firestone cases
- An overwhelming public concern about the safety of tires on sport utility vehicles warrants the disclosure of corporate documents.
A federal judge in Atlanta and a state court judge in Florida each ruled during the last week of September to unseal documents from 1997 liability cases against Firestone Tire Company due to recent public concern about Firestone tires.
In Florida, the state attorney general intervened in a suit brought by Orestes and Evelyn Alvarez, who sued Firestone for injuries they sustained when the tread separated from the Firestone tire on their Ford Explorer. The attorney general asked the court to unseal evidence that had been kept under a blanket protective order imposed last year. The attorney general wanted to obtain the records to pursue its civil racketeering investigation of Firestone. Judge Ronald Dresnick agreed to unseal the records, finding the public has a right to know about Firestone tires, but he added Firestone could petition to seal individual documents if the company believed the documents contained legitimate trade secrets.
In Georgia, The Washington Post, CBS, The Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune intervened in another case and asked the court to unseal documents under a blanket protective order agreed upon by the parties when the case settled. The case was filed by the family of 19-year-old Daniel Van Etten who was killed when his Ford Explorer rolled over. The roll over was allegedly caused by tread separation on the left rear tire, manufactured by Firestone. Judge Anthony Alaimo ordered the disclosure of the records because of the prominence and importance of the Firestone recall. “The public and media interest in [this case] involving allegedly defective Bridgestone/Firestone tires and/or Ford Explorers is substantial, and deservedly so, because the use of defective automobile tires linked to numerous deaths raises serious public health and safety concerns,” he wrote.
Judge Alaimo, however, agreed to stay enforcement of his order to give Firestone a chance to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta (11th Cir.).
(Alvarez v. Firestone Tire Co., Attorney General: Bob Butterworth; Van Etten v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Media Counsel: Mary Rose Papandrea) — AG
© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press