Courting Firestone

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Gloria Jiminez still remembers the terrible moment on a Texas highway two years ago when her Firestone tire came apart, flipping her Ford Explorer, reports CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson.

"When I came to, because I was unconscious for awhile, I could hear my daughter Melissa screaming in pain in the grassy area, but I couldn't hear anything from my daughter Denise. Denise was still breathing at the time, but she didn't make it," recalled Jiminez.

Melissa, the daughter who survived, suffered permanent injury. So did the entire family.

"This completely destroyed our family, my husband is very isolated, he won't talk about it. My daughter has a permanent closed-head brain injury and lives with one kidney left, hoping it doesn't fail," said Jiminez.

Jiminez says Ford treated her family with dignity, ultimately settling the case for an undisclosed amount. But Firestone didn't settle. In fact, when it came to going to trial, the company sought one delay after another.

Richard Roth, the family's attorney said, "In 20 years, I've never been involved in a case where a company threw up so many roadblocks and obstacles."

Roth says Firestone fought every single deposition he's tried to take. When courts ordered Firestone to produce witnesses, Firestone appealed all the way to the state supreme court. And even after losing there, Firestone still didn't always let witnesses be questioned.

"We won a ruling giving us the right to take a deposition of the supervisor at Firestone's Wilson, North Carolina plant, but when we showed up, Firestone lawyers simply told us they weren't going to produce him. They handed us a letter from his doctor saying he's just under too much stress," explained Roth.

And just when it looked like the case would be the first trial since the massive tire recall, Firestone added Texas Representative Juan Hinojosa to its legal team.

"I was hired because of my expertise," said Hinojosa.

And Hinojosa could do one thing none of Firestone's other lawyers could do: bring the trial to a screeching halt. In Texas, legislators who are also lawyers can get their trials postponed while the legislature meets, since they can't do both at once. But Jiminez' lawyer says Firestone hired Hinojosa at the last second only to get the legislative delay, in a practice known as "rent-a-legislator."

"I call it legislative abuse. It's nothing more than a sham, it's what I would call legitimized fraud perpetrated by Firestone and its attorney to delay the Jiminez' trial. This is Firestone's second way of harming this family," said an outraged Roth.

"It just infuriates me that a legislator could get hired to delay and hurt my family a lot more. He's supposed to repreent the citizens of Texas, which I am one, and I'm wondering would he do the same if this happened to a member of his own family," asked Jiminez.

"My responsibilities are to the citizens of the state of Texas, not to any one particular individual. I'm an attorney, this is my profession, this what I do for a living, try cases. If the Jiminez family had hired me, thought that I was a competent professional, then I would have represented them," explained Hinojosa.

With that case shelved, the next trial would have been one attorney Bruce Kaster is working on. But Firestone again hired Hinojosa, and got another legislative continuance.

"I have never seen any manufacturer abuse the system to the extent that Bridgestone/Firestone are abusing it here. What Firestone is doing is using every mechanism possible in order to delay the resolution of these claims. They are using abusive tactics in discovery, they are using abusive tactics as exemplified by the legislative continuance. Every means at their disposal they're using to delay resolution and delay responsibility," said Kaster.

Legal Tricks?
Firestone has hired Texas State Representative Juan Hinojosa for their legal team — a move plaintiffs claim is practice known as "rent-a-legislator."
Legislators in Texas, who are also lawyers, can have their trials postponed while the legislature meets, since they can't do both jobs at the same time.
Firestone and Hinojosa refute that claim, saying he was hired for his expertise. But in a deposition on January 17, 2001, Hinojosa admits that he has never tried a bad tire case.
Hinojosa is not exactly an expert in tire trials. From his taped disposition on Juanuary 17, 2001, he was questioned by Jiminez' attorney, "Have you ever tried a bad tire case?" Hinojosa replied, "No."

But he says Firestone may use him in up to 15 cases. Firestone says it's because he's an excellent lawyer and respected legislator. Hinajosa says he's offended by suggestions he was hired for anything other than his legal skills.

"Why are we focusing only on these two cases? The reason is that the plaintiff's lawyers are upset that they didn't get their way," said Hinojosa.

Firestone points out that inojosa has filed the required affidavit swearing he did not take the cases simply for the purpose of delay.

But that's the end result for Gloria Jiminez. Now July is the earliest she could have her day in court.

For me, I try to keep the family together but it keeps going on there's no closure. My family's been in limbo since March 20 of '99," explains Jiminez.

Even if she wins, she might not get the results she wants. Her lawyers argue the company may be running out of insurance to pay all the claims and with the delay, she may never see a penny.



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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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