Product liability controversies are rarely simple and straightforward. Lots of factors have to be sorted out. But when public safety is directly involved, any erring has to be on the side of caution and preventing further injury.
That's why Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. had little choice but to launch a recall of tires implicated in numerous accidents and 46 traffic deaths. And the recall should be expanded if evidence mounts that tires other than those already recalled could be faulty.
Such "evidence," however, is turbulently at issue. The consumer groups that have joined the fray say complaints from tire owners already cast doubt on a wider range of Firestone products. Firestone and Ford, whose SUVs were equipped with the recalled tires, assert that these other products are safe.
The public is thus confronted with a debate it has little patience for. Should it believe companies that clearly have an interest in containing a disaster? Or should it believe consumer advocates and liability lawyers who may be intent on making the problem appear as large as possible?
More information is badly needed. Do the accidents on record point unequivocally to a tire-tread separation tendency as the cause? Have problems at the Decatur, Ill., Firestone plant identified by Ford as the source of questionable tires been resolved?
The companies should own up fast. The buying public won't wait.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society