Company lawyers are getting away with murder.
There is a long and hallowed tradition in the lawsuit business that allows judges to seal the results of a trial and make it impossible for anyone else to take a look at the evidence.
When public safety is involved, it's time for a change, and the Ford-Firestone situa-tion proves the point. Bridgestone/Firestone has had some serious problems lately. Ford has had some equally tough problems with its Ford Explorer sport-utility.
Just about everyone realizes that there is some sort of problem with the combination of some Firestone tires and Ford Explorers. No one has gotten to the root of the problem yet, but people have been killed when the tread separated from the tire and, in far too many cases, caused rollover accidents.
In too many cases, when a settlement is reached in a lawsuit, the evidence is kept out of any public record and cannot be accessed by anyone, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
If a car or any other product has a serious safety-related problem, we should be able to learn what the problem might be. Just because a company settles a lawsuit shouldn't mean that all information that was presented at that trial can be hidden from the public and even government agencies.
Should anyone be able to hide information that could let the public realize that a particular product might not be safe? Does the right of the defendant, after paying the settlement - which also is secret - supercede the right of the public?
NHTSA claims it was unaware of the difficulties those tires were experiencing. The agency probably was unable to acquire the information.
Corporate lawyers will tell me that if trial information were released, it would be used by other lawyers for other cases involving the same products. That could well be a risk to the companies.
There should be a balance between the company's right to seal evidence that could be used in future lawsuits and the right of the public and government regulatory agencies to know about the dangers.
The present situation simply doesn't make any sense, and it is a real danger to the public.