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Cooper, Ford, others sued over fatal accident

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (June 10, 2010)—Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., Ford Motor Co., tire dealer Big Chief Tire Co. and auto dealer Imaginetour Inc. are the defendants in a lawsuit involving a June 2009 Ford Explorer rollover accident that killed four teenagers and seriously injured four others.

Cooper, however, said the accident had nothing to do with the design and safety of its tires.

Nine students from Ed White High School in Jacksonville were driving north on I-295 when the left rear tire, a Cooper Cobra Radial G/T size P235/70R15 manufactured in May 2005, allegedly suffered a tread separation. The vehicle rolled over several times and struck a utility pole.

The only person not ejected from the vehicle was the driver, Brandon Hodges, who also was the only one wearing a seat belt. Hodges awaits trial on a charge of driving without a license causing death.

However, attorney Eric S. Block, representing the accident victims and their families, argued Hodges could not reasonably have been expected under any circumstances to maintain control of the car after the blowout.

“Well prior to the manufacture of the subject tire … Cooper Tire knew that its Cobra Radial GT was an unreasonably dangerous and defective product,” states the complaint filed June 8 before the Duval County Circuit Court.

The suit also accuses Ford of knowingly making a defective vehicle, Big Chief of negligence in installing four Cooper Cobra tires on the vehicle, and Imaginetour of negligence in selling the vehicle with those tires. It seeks unspecified damages, plus costs and interest.

In a statement, Cooper denied Block's allegations and defended the Cobra line as having an excellent service record.

“When consumers buy a Cooper tire, they are choosing a safe, reliable and quality-engineered product,” said the statement attributed to Curtis Schneekloth, Cooper director of investor relations. “With more than 300 million Cooper tires on the road, safety is essential to our business and a continuing priority of our ongoing research and development efforts.”

Officials of Ford and Big Chief could not be reached for comment.