by Valerie Verkamp
A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against Ford Motor Company alleging its 15-passenger van had known defects and failed to restrain a passenger in a rollover accident resulting in his death.
Maung Hnin, 35, of Kansas City, Kan., was one of 12 passengers in a 2008 Ford Econoline E-350 van traveling southbound in the left lane of Interstate 29 in Platte County on Jan. 14, 2017.
When the driver, Ca Hnin, attempted a slight curve near the 20.8-mile marker, the vehicle skidded off the left side of the roadway, struck a concrete median and overturned, according to the crash report. Maung Hnin was ejected from the van and struck by another vehicle in the left lane of the interstate.
On Tuesday, Dec. 11, plaintiff Shwe Aye, the surviving spouse, filed a lawsuit in the Platte County Circuit Court alleging Maung’s seatbelt failed to restrain him in the rollover accident, causing him to be thrown from the van into oncoming traffic where he was killed.
The lawsuit contends the vehicle “lacked controllability during reasonable highway maneuvers” and alleges the company was aware of the serious risk of death associated with 15-passenger vans.
The origin of the Econoline began about 50 years ago. The first-generation of Econoline vans were 173 inches long. That’s much smaller than today’s models, which are available in regular or extended lengths.
The lawsuit alleges the current design parameters render the van “defective and unreasonably dangerous” in emergency situations.
“The subject E-350 van has design parameters including weight distribution, stability index, narrow track, wheelbase, track width, suspension handling packages, extended rear overhand and tires that have instability, poor handling, and rollover characteristics known to Ford which affect the vehicle in emergency situations,” alleges the lawsuit submitted by Langdon & Emison LLC.
Not only does the 15-passenger van allegedly have a heightened propensity to roll over due to its design, the lawsuit claims Ford did not carry out the necessary stability and handling limits test on the E-350, which had been performed on Ford pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles.
“Defendant Ford claimed, in response to public concerns over hazards associated with 15- passenger vans, that its 15-passenger vans met and passed all of defendant Ford’s tests,” states the lawsuit. “Defendant Ford made these claims at a time it knew that the 15-passenger vans had not, in fact, met all of Ford’s tests used to validate stability and handling in its passenger vehicles and other vehicles.”
The lawsuit also alleges the company withheld relevant information and destroyed stability and handling evaluations conducted on its 15-passenger vans.
The lawsuit points out a previous court hearing involving the concealment and destruction of stability, handling and rollover resistance of 15-passenger vans. During one of the hearings, Judge Gettleman deemed Ford’s conduct as boarding on criminal, according to the lawsuit.
“This reckless conduct demonstrates a pattern of Ford of withholding from the public important safety information regarding the instability, poor handling, and rollover propensity of Ford Light Trucks including 15-passenger vans, pickups and SUVs,” alleges the lawsuit.
The lawsuit contends concerns have been raised about E-350 Vans.
Court documents reveal federal ordinances have been enacted to prohibit the purchase of 15-passenger vans for school-related transportation. Additionally, a report warning of the vehicle’s rollover risks was issued by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration in 2001.
Still, its popularity remains very high, especially for shuttling hotel guests to and from the airport.
The lawsuit also alleges the driver, Ca Hnin, did not stay in his lane of traffic and failed to exercise a reasonable level of care while operating the van. Due to his negligence, Maung Hnin suffered severe injury and died, it contends.
The lawsuit contends Ford was negligent in designing and manufacturing the E-350. Pursuant to court documents, Ford failed to adequately warn the late Hnin of the defective condition of the vehicle, causing the “injury and death of Maung Hnin.”
The suit enumerates 15 distinct breaches of duties, including failing to recall defective components of the E-350 and failing to adapt a safe design.
Shwe Aye is seeking compensation for losses incurred by Maung Hnin’s death.
The lawsuit does not establish who acted with wrongdoing or who is correct. The petition is the first step in what can become a lengthy litigation process.