NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. on Thursday extended indefinitely its reimbursement program to owners of recalled tires who had them independently replaced, and denied the move resulted from a restraining order granted by a Kentucky court on Wednesday.|
Bridgestone/Firestone, the Nashville, Tenn.-based unit of Japan's Bridgestone Corp., said it would compensate customers up to $100 a tire for exchanging tires involved in the company's voluntary recall at any location, wiping away an August 16 deadline for owners to swap tires at locations not affiliated with Bridgestone/Firestone or Ford Motor.
The change comes amid increased consumer clamor for tires following the company's August 9 recall of more than 6.5 million of its ATX, ATX II and Wilderness models over complaints the treads are separating and allegedly causing fatal accidents. More than 60 percent of those tires come as original equipment on Ford Explorers, Mercury Mountaineers and other sport utility vehicles.
Firestone owners wishing to switch tires can do so at authorized Bridgestone, Ford or Firestone sites.
To receive reimbursement, consumers that choose to have their tires replaced at an independent dealer must produce the old tires, proof of purchase of the new tires. They will be then given a form that must be sent to Bridgestone.
"It is important that we collect the recall tires in order to fulfill all of our obligation under this voluntary safety recall," Gary Crigger, executive vice president of Bridgestone/Firestone, told reporters. "We hope these practices will help speed up the recall and ease the concerns of our customers."
Kentucky court issues restraining order
A Kentucky judge late Wednesday issued an order requiring Firestone to continue reimbursing the owners of the recalled tires who had them replaced at independent shops with a competitor's brand.
The temporary restraining order, signed by Judge Thomas Wine of Jefferson Circuit Court in Louisville, Ky., came just before Firestone's offer of reimbursement was set to expire.
Lawyers for two vehicle owners successfully argued that advertisements in newspapers Wednesday about details of the reimbursement policy were insufficient notice. Judge Wine's order said it would remain in force until the court specifically ordered otherwise.
On a conference call with the press, Bridgestone representative said they were not aware of the Kentucky court action.
"We were not aware of any court action that was taken," said Christine Karbowiak, Vice President of Public Affairs for Bridgestone/Firestone. "This was taken independently of that."
Karbowiak said the action was taken as a matter of customer service.
"We have gotten a number of calls from customers, and we are continually evolving this process -- it is a very, very large recall," she said. "We are identifying improvements all the way along the way. We will continue making changes as we think it will help customers."
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has reports of 62 deaths, over 100 injuries and 779 complaints linked to the tires in a continuing investigation.
The Firestone/Ford tire recall has prompted a congressional investigation. Rep. Billy Tauzin (D-LA) is now calling for hearings in September, and the House Commerce subcommittee on Consumer Protection has begun their investigation to gather information for the prospective hearings, a spokesman for Tauzin told CNNfn.
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The Senate Commerce Subcommittee is also gathering information for possible hearings, but a committee representative said September may be too optimistic a target date for hearings there.
In the last several days, Ford Motor Company has briefed both House and Senate committee staffs on the status of the recall and investigation into the cause of Firestone tire problems, according to sources from both committees.
-- from staff and wire reports.