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Ford, Firestone Settle Shinhoster Fatal Accident Case; Terms Undisclosed

Jan 1, 2002 |

It took nearly all Tuesday night, but just before Ford, Firestone and Earl Shinhoster's family were to face off in front of a jury, they suddenly settled the case.

The two sides met until nearly midnight when Ruby Shinhoster finally agreed to the money the companies were offering. Her husband, Earl Shinhoster died on I-85 when the Ford Explorer he was riding in blew a tire, rolled over and slammed into a tree.

The family's attorneys said the wreck happened because Firestone's tire was defective and the SUV's design caused it to roll over easily. Ruby Shinhoster left quickly after the settlement was announced, but said she at first wanted the trial to go on so the companies would have to accept blame. Ford and Firestone's attorneys say they regret Shinhosters death but deny their products were to blame and they say the settlement does not indicate any wrongdoing on their part.

Two other victims also settled their cases against the companies, but neither side is allowed to say just how much money will change hands. The lawyers working for the woman hurt in the accident, Samimah Aziz are going out of thier way to make sure people know what they wanted to tell the jury; that Ford and Firestone were covering up defects and have been for some time now.

She can barely walk after two years of surgery and therapy, yet Samimah Aziz has big plans for life after court.

"I plan to write a book about this experience," she said. "It's an American phenomena, this introduction of SUVs and this whole phenomena of trucks and taking the roads with SUV's."

Aziz was thrown from the same Ford Explorer Earl Shinhoster died in and left with fractured hands, feet, and arms and long term disability. That's why she supports an ongoing attack on Ford and Firestone. "There isnt ever enough money to compensate for the loss of life," said Aziz.

The lawyers say there were several things Ford didn't want you or a jury to see, such as videotaped company road tests showing the Explorer's tendency to roll over, even with good tires. Firestone escapes with just slightly less culpability.

Aziz' Lawyer William Gill says the tiremaker covered up potentially life threatening defects. "Firestone had known for many years that it had a problem with many of its tires," he said.

Firestone Spokesman Dan MacDonald says neither company accepted guilt as part of the settlement. "We're just pleased we were able to get this thing resolved without having to go through a long trial," he said.

But Aziz and her lawyers say that admission isn't necessary. The court of public opinion and common sense will be enough.

"We don't have to say blame," Aziz explained. "I was in a Ford Explorer with Firestone tires and this is the result."

Aziz plans to start driving again now that the case is over. She says one thing is certain. When she buys a new car, it won't be an SUV.

We were unable to speak with Ford's representatives in the case, but they had repeatedly denied any responsibility for the accident. Firestone stuck to its claim that the tire that caused the rollover was seven years old, used, reclaimed from the dump and improperly resold to the man who owned the Ford Explorer.

There is some speculation tonight about the final amount of money given to the families. One attorney in Tuskeegee says it is a record amount for a personal injury case in Alabama. Neither side will confirm that.

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