Local Family Sues Ford for $15 Million - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Local Family Sues Ford for $15 Million

Updated: Feb 6, 2008 12:01 AM EST

A vehicle fire that killed a 3-year-old girl and badly burned her twin brother is the subject of a multi-million dollar lawsuit. It names the Ford Motor Company and a Staunton dealer.

A Waynesboro family is seeking more than $15 million in damages. They claim the maker and seller of their minivan share the blame for the tragic fire in May of 2006.

3-year-old Emily Funkhouser died from severe burns she suffered after climbing into her family's 2001 Ford Windstar. Her twin brother Evan was severely burned, but survived.

The van was parked in the Funkhousers' driveway with its engine off and no key in the ignition. Investigators quickly zeroed in on a possible cause.

"The culprit in this fire may very well have been a cigarette lighter that's hot 24/7, whether the vehicle's on or not that had plugged into it a CD player," said Waynesboro Police Sergeant Kelly Walker.

Police believe the player's power adapter overheated and shorted out causing a small, smoldering fire that flared up when the van door opened and fed it a blast of oxygen.

The victims' father, Steven Funkhouser, has sued the Ford Motor Company and Obaugh Ford in Staunton. It claims they were negligent for designing, building, and selling a van with a fire hazard--a cigarette lighter that stays powered at all times.

The lawsuit says Ford and its dealer failed to recall the van, or warn buyers of the potential danger. Ford responded that the Windstar was not defective but was used in manner that was not intended.

The lawsuit was seeking $15 million for the death of emily and another $500,000 for the injuries to Evan. But a judge recently ordered the cases to be filed separately.

A jury trial in the case of Emily Funkhouser is set for April of next year. The family's attorney says he'll soon be filing an accompanying suit for the injuries to her brother.

Reported by Ken Slack
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