Iowa family suing Ford over fire
(CNN) -- An Iowa man is suing Ford, claiming that the death of his 74-year-old wife was caused by a fire that began in their Ford F-150 pickup truck, which was parked in an attached garage and spread to the house.
Darletta Mohlis died in the fire at her home in Westgate, Iowa, on May 2, 2005. Her husband, 76-year-old Earl Mohlis, was injured in the fire but escaped. The house was destroyed by the fire.
Officials from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Ford examined the remains of the Mohlis home on Monday. NHTSA had no comment on its findings when contacted by CNN.
According to the lawsuit, the cruise-control deactivation switch in the 1996 F-150 pickup is the likely cause of the fire. A Ford recall involving the switch affects 2000 model year F-150s but did not extend to other model years. The lawsuit alleges Ford deliberately limited the recall to save money.
"If the company knew about the problems with the 2000 models, then it must also know the same trouble exists with the 1996 truck and the others," said attorney Rob Ammons in a press release. "They made a decision based on cost. And in May, Darletta Mohlis paid the price."
In a statement to CNN, Ford said the switch did not start the fire at the Mohlis home.
"An inspection of the fire scene demonstrates conclusively that the fire did not originate from the 1996 Ford F-150, and specifically not from its speed-control deactivation switch," said Ford spokeswoman Kathleen Vokes in an e-mail to CNN. "Remnants of the switch were found at the scene by NHTSA and Ford investigators during their inspection. These remnants rule out the switch as the cause of the fire. Instead, the evidence suggests that the fire started elsewhere in the garage, spreading to the F-150 and the Mohlis home."
Vokes said vehicle fires can happen for a variety of reasons, including faulty repair, improper modification to the vehicle with aftermarket parts and wiring, prior accident damage and even arson. According to Vokes, the insurance industry reports that 100,000 "no-collision" vehicle fires that occur every year and less than one-tenth of 1 percent of those fires are alleged to involve speed-control deactivation switches.
"The vast majority of those involve vehicles that are not equipped with these switches," Vokes said. "This is why each complaint or allegation must be considered on a case-by-case basis."
According to Vokes, Ford continues to work and cooperate with NHTSA on its investigation of this tragic incident and extended its condolences to the Mohlis family.
The lawsuit was filed earlier this week in Harris County, Iowa, and seeks an unspecified amount of damages for the loss of Darletta Mohlis.