Holding Firestone, Ford Accountable

Carlos Anaya accepts the "Outstanding Variety Program Segment" award onstage at the 18th annual GLAAD Media Awards March 26, 2007 in New York City. GETTY

Barring a weekend settlement, Donna Bailey's attorneys will go back to court in Corpus Christi, Texas Monday in a landmark lawsuit against Ford and Firestone.

While 148 deaths have been linked to accidents involving defective Firestone tires— many of them on Ford SUVs— CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports Bailey's case involves injuries she suffered following a blowout and rollover last March.

A poster child for adventure sports just one year ago, Bailey was left paralyzed from the neck down.

I loved to run, I did aerobics; I loved weightlifting."

Now, Bailey is a symbol of the Ford/Firestone fiasco, and it's tough to take. "It's very hard to go from being able at my age to go from climbing tall rocks to a place where I can't even scratch my own nose."

Her court case next week will be the first since Firestone recalled more than six million tires in August.

Bailey's memory of her accident is still vivid. "The car rolled over and I broke my neck. And I can remember just watching my friend try to kick in the windshield to get me out and that I couldn't breathe or move."

And though she can't move a muscle below her neck, in an agonizing twist of fate, she can feel pain, so daily therapy is excruciating.

But, all things considered Bailey says it's better to feel pain than to feel nothing at all.

In Corpus Christi Friday, Judge Nanette Hassette began a status hearing attended by members of Bailey's family, who expressed their eagerness to move forward and put the tragedy behind them.

Judge Hassette was asked to consider a motion to hold court one day at the old Trade Winds Ford Dealership where 18 Ford Explorers involved in rollover accidents, including Bailey's, are being housed. The idea is to take the court to the evidence.

The hearing is expected to continue on Monday and Bailey, who has been continuing her therapy in Houston, is expected to testify on Friday, January 12.

Attorney Tab Turner is leading her case. A nationally known litigator on rollovers and tires, he's well acquainted with Ford.

Six years ago, Turner convinced a jury that Ford Bronco II's were dangerous rollover risks. The award was $25 million in that one case alone.

Now, he plans to put the Ford Explorer on trial.

"It's time for somebody to have to stand in front of 12 people, citizens of this country, and tell the truth about what's wrong with these tires and this car," said Turner.

His ammunition: video of a test he conducted to show how hard it can be to control an Explorer after a tread separation. In the test, the vehicle was not only hard to control, but it unexpectedly rolled over as well.

Turner has memos showing Ford was concerned about the risk of rollover for more than a decade, but that it rejected costly design changes that could have made the SUV safer.

Instead, Turner claims Ford forced Firestone to make a tire that might cut rollover risks, buit turned out to be weak and dangerously defective.

Firestone and Ford maintain that what happened to Bailey doesn't necessarily reflect any design flaw.

"What happened to Donna Bailey is a tragedy," said Helen Petrauskas of Ford.

"We're always upset when someone is injured in the use of our vehicle, and we're working hard to settle so she can get along with her life."

Bailey won't talk about any of that, except to say that she's sad so many people have been hurt. She's grateful that her mind is still sharp and that she still has the love of her children.

For its part, Ford says it has fixed communications and other lapses that caused it to get a late start in addressing tire problems in the U.S.

Since the recall, the company says it has improved the way it gathers and analyzes tire data globally, and it just announced it will begin covering tires under its warranty, which should help it find problems sooner.


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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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