Iowa Lawsuit Alleging Fatal Fire from Ford Pickup Settled

March 7, 2007

An eastern Iowa man whose wife died in a fire he said was caused by a Ford pickup truck has settled a lawsuit with the auto manufacturer.

Earl Mohlis, 78, said Monday he still cries over the loss of his wife, Darletta Mohlis, 74, who died May 2, 2005, after a fire spread from their attached garage into their Westgate home.

Mohlis and his three grown children, Jeff Mohlis, Carolyn Howe and Kathy Brady, filed the lawsuit on Oct. 20, 2005. They claimed a cruise control deactivation switch in a 1996 Ford F-150 pickup started the fire.

Four months before the fire, in January 2005, Ford recalled nearly 800,000 vehicles because of a cruise control switch problem. It wasn’t until four months after the Mohlis fire, in September 2005, that the company expanded the recall to include 3.8 million pickups and sport utility vehicles from the 1994-2002 model years.

The Mohlis lawsuit claims Ford initially limited the recall of vehicles with similar speed control switches to save money.

Ford spokeswoman Kristen Kinley confirmed that a settlement was reached in October but didn’t disclose financial details.

“We feel strongly that the vehicle was not the source of the fire in this particular case,” she said. “As with any case, you have to look at the cost versus risk and make a business decision about whether or not it makes sense for the company to go through such a costly and lengthy trial.”

In the Mohlis case, she said the company felt strongly that the evidence pointed away from the truck.

“Then again when you can’t pinpoint what is the cause, it makes for a difficult case,” she said.

Court documents in the Mohlis case detailed a painful death in which Darletta Mohlis was burned alive, unable to escape the fire which engulfed her home.

The lawsuit said witnessing the death of his wife of 34 years caused Earl Mohlis emotional pain, torment and suffering and it sought a sum of money that would fairly compensate him for the loss.

He said Monday he had little choice but to accept a settlement. The case was likely to take as much as six years to come to trial, he said.

“I’m 78 years old, if I’d waited six years I wouldn’t have gotten a benefit out of it at all,” he said.

He declined to discuss terms of the settlement, saying he was told to keep quiet about it.

Attorneys for the Mohlis family in Iowa and Texas did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

The Mohlis case was one of three in the United States in which faulty cruise control deactivation switches were blamed for causing fatal fires.

The remaining cases are in Georgia and Arkansas, Kinley said.

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