Class action against Ford alleges faulty speed control switches

Steve Gonzalez Oct. 21, 2008, 12:00pm

A couple from Illinois, a woman from Florida and a man from Mississippi want to represent a putative class of Ford owners living in Florida, Illinois and Mississippi who had their car catch fire over a defective cruise control switch.

Illinois plaintiffs Joseph and Nicole Bellino allege their 2000 Ford F-150 caught fire in the driveway in their Crystal Lake home on July 6, 2007. Their truck and contents were left unsalvageable.

In addition, the Bellino's allege their garage door, siding and lighting sustained damages due to the fire. They also allege their neighbor's house sustained fire damage.

They claim they contacted Ford on July 13, 2007, and was told that Ford would not be able to offer any assistance to them. Seven days later they received a recall letter informing them their F-150 was subject to a speed control system modification.

Melinda Kittle alleges her 2003 Ford Expedition caught fire in her Davenport, Fla., driveway on June 23, 2007.

Kittle claims the fire also damaged her mobile home plus two other neighboring motor homes.

On Nov. 15, 2007, Amy Hester claims her 2001 Ford Expedition caught fire in parking lot at her husband's place of employment leaving her vehicle completely destroyed.

Hester also claims the fire destroyed her purse, shoes, CD's coats, maps, Xbox controllers and her Bibles.

She claims Ford told her they would not offer her any assistance.

According to the plaintiffs, the Ford vehicles in question are defective and unsafe for one or more of the following reasons:

  • The speed control deactivation switch (SCD switch) is located in a circuit that is always energized with electricity even when the vehicle is parked and the ignition is turned off;
  • Even though the cruise control deactivation switch requires only a half amp of power to operate, Ford designed the vehicles so that the switches continually received 15 amps of power;
  • The circuitry for the SCD switch does not contain a fused wiring harness that will interrupt the power to the switch if it starts to overheat because of a resistive short to ground;
  • Vacuum pressure generated by the Ford vehicle's brake system caused the Kapton orientation to invert or "oil can" and ultimately fatigue and wear out much sooner than if the diaphragm had only experienced pressure applications in one direction; and
  • The SCD switch, which is typically mounted on the brake proportioning valve, is mounted in the master cylinder in a vertically up or angled down orientation, such that the metallic corrosion products can settle in such a way that dendrite growth can develop.

    The SCD switch, located in a circuit that is powered at all times regardless of whether the vehicle's ignition is in the on position, creates a significant fire risk not only to the Ford vehicles, but also the garages and houses in which the Ford vehicles are parked, the complaint states.

    The plaintiffs also claim prior to manufacturing the vehicles, Ford knew there were problems with the design, manufacture, and placement of the SCD switch used in their vehicles, but used the same or similar design anyway.

    According to the suit, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports indicate that at least 218 similar events of fires from cruise control deactivation switches in Ford vehicles have been reported and by June 22, 2005, at least 65 fires were confirmed by NHTSA to have been caused the failure of the SCD switch.

    "On May 13, 1999, because of the fire problems with the SCD switch, Ford voluntarily recalled over 250,000 Ford vehicles," the complaint states.

    The plaintiffs claim model years 1992 and 1993 Ford Crown Victorias, Lincoln Town Cars and Mercury Grand Marquises were included in the recall.

    They also claim the Ford had a second recall on Jan. 27, 2005, which included 740,451 vehicles.

    Model year 2000 Ford F-150, Ford Expedition, Lincoln Navigator and 2001 Ford Super Cabs were involved in the second recall.

    According to the complaint, for the third time on Sept. 7, 2005, Ford recalled 4,297,461 vehicles and as part of the recall Ford instructed owners to take their vehicles to a dealership where the cruise control function will be disabled to avoid fires until the replacement parts were made available.

    Ford also issued recalls on three other occasions, with the last coming in January 2008.

    The plaintiffs claim that the class has been damaged and suffered a monetary loss by paying for a Ford vehicle that was defective and unsafe.

    They also claim the class suffered or will suffer an inconvenience and disruption of their work or activities at the time the defective SCD switch is replaced.

    In addition, the plaintiffs allege some Ford owners suffered additional damage due to fire including destruction of their vehicle, damage to property, disruption of life, and in some cases physical injury and death.

    According to the plaintiffs, they are putative class representatives with claims that are typical of each class member and that their interests coincide with the interests of the other class members.

    The plaintiffs are seeking a judgment certifying the class and appointing them class representatives. They are also seeking the appointment of John Carey, Michael Flannery and Tiffany Marko of Carey & Danis in St. Louis and Jeffrey Lowe of St. Louis as class counsel.

    The class is seeking damages in excess of $5 million.

    "Defendant Ford had actual subjective awareness of the risk involved, but nonetheless proceeded conscious indifference to the rights, safety or welfare of others," the complaint states.

    The case has been assigned to Chief District Judge David Herndon.

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