NEW YORK (June 25)—Plaintiffs' attorneys knew of safety problems involving Firestone tires on Ford Explorers as early as 1996, the "New York Times" reported in a front-page story. But they didn't reveal their information for fear that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would make an official finding of no defect, thus compromising their pending litigation. "Everyone was very leery of the agency getting involved with this, because a number of plaintiff lawyers have been burned when an investigation has been opened and closed without the finding of a defect," said Sean Kane, partner for tire issues at consulting firm Strategic Safety. The "Times" quoted former NHTSA Administrator Ricardo Martinez as saying it was "outrageous" that the lawyers withheld the information. As of 1996, only 13 of the 203 traffic deaths related to Firestone tires on Ford Explorers and reported to NHTSA had occurred, according to the "Times."