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St. Petersburg woman sues over tire blowout

Susan Rall was driving alone in her Ford Explorer on Interstate 75 in north Florida when, she says, her Firestone tire suddenly suffered a blowout and the vehicle flipped over.

Ms. Rall, 48, who broke her neck and has permanent nerve damage, had no idea why the tire failed _ not until months later when Firestone recalled millions of tires like hers.

On Tuesday, Ms. Rall sued the makers of the tires, Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.; Ford Motor Co.; and Walker Ford of Lee County, where she bought her 1997 Explorer.

It is thought to be the first suit filed against Firestone in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court since Aug. 9, when the company recalled about 6.5-million tires used on sport utility vehicles and light trucks.

A similar lawsuit was filed Monday in Hillsborough County by a Tampa woman who says her tire separated while she was driving in east Florida in January.

Officials with Bridgestone/Firestone recently apologized to the American public and vowed to find the cause of the problem. Firestone and Ford officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Omar Medina, a Tampa lawyer who represents both women, said Firestone officials had received complaints about tire problems long before his clients' accidents but failed to tell customers they could be at risk.

Recent national reports indicate the company had data indicating safety problems years before the recall. A tire recall began in 16 other countries more than a year ago, but U.S. authorities were not notified.

Federal investigators are now looking into what role, if any, the tires had in 88 deaths and more than 250 injuries.

"Eighty deaths later, they recalled the tires," Medina said. "This was a lack of acceptance of responsibility."

Two weeks ago, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a warning about the safety of 1.4-million additional tires. Bridgestone/Firestone announced Tuesday that it will replace those tires, too.

Ms. Rall of St. Petersburg has no feeling on one side of her body, tingling sensations, headaches and constant pain, Medina said. Her accident occurred in Hamilton County in May.

The Hillsborough County case involves Dalia Perreira, 51, who was driving on State Road 91 in Indian River County when the tire on her Ford Explorer separated. After several surgeries, she still has back and arm problems and has not been able to return to work, Medina said.

Ms. Perreira's suit names Bridgestone/Firestone, Ford Motor Co. and Sunshine Ford of Dade County, where she bought her 1997 vehicle.