updated 3/17/2004 4:01:50 PM ET 2004-03-17T21:01:50

A judge Wednesday refused to grant national class-action status to a lawsuit alleging deadly defects in a line of Firestone tires.

The lawsuit involves Steeltex tires, which are standard equipment on 71 types of vehicles, including pickups, sport utility vehicles, recreational vehicles and ambulances. The tires have been linked to crashes that killed five people.

Superior Court Judge Christopher Sheldon said there were insufficient grounds to combine claims from across the country into a single case. “The evidence here is lacking in every aspect of class certification,” he said.

Class-action certification could have added up to 5 million plaintiffs to the California lawsuit. Now, the claims will have to be handled state by state.

Plaintiff’s attorney Joseph Lisoni said he will appeal. Lisoni has said Steeltex tires have a defect that causes the tread to separate. He wants 40 million tires recalled and consumers reimbursed at least $1 billion.

“These tires are lethal lemons,” he said.

Dan MacDonald, a spokesman for Nashville, Tenn.-based Bridgestone/Firestone, said the company was pleased with the ruling. “Based on the law and the facts, we’re not surprised,” he said.

MacDonald said 100 kinds of Steeltex tires have been manufactured to 300 different specifications since 1991, meaning the issues are not similar enough to combine into a single case.

Last month, Firestone recalled 490,000 Steeltex tires made in Canada. MacDonald said that the recall was precautionary, because of increased claims, and that no specific problem with the tire had been identified.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched an investigation of Steeltex tires in 2000 but closed it after finding no defects.

On Monday, a state judge in Texas approved a $149 million settlement on behalf of owners of Firestone ATX, ATXII and Wilderness AT tires, most of which were sold on Ford Explorers. The settlement resolved 30 class-action lawsuits against Bridgestone/Firestone.

At least 271 people were reported killed and hundreds more injured in accidents related to ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires, and the company recalled 17 million of them 3½ years ago.

The company has spent an estimated $1.5 billion on recall-related costs, including the settlement of dozens of lawsuits, and only recently started turning a profit again.

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