updated 6/17/2005 8:57:41 AM ET 2005-06-17T12:57:41

Lawyers for the family of an Iowa woman killed in a house fire last month have sued Ford Motor Co., claiming a problem with the family's garaged F-150 pickup caused the blaze.

The suit was filed Wednesday in Houston on behalf of the family of Darletta Mohlis, 74, of Westgate, who died in the fire on May 2. Her husband, Earl Mohlis, was injured.

The lawsuit didn't specify what damages the family is seeking.

Lawyers for the family said an investigation showed the fire started in the pickup's cruise control deactivation switch and spread through the family's garage into their home.

Ford spokeswoman Kathleen Vokes said Thursday that an inspection at the Mohlis' house "demonstrates conclusively that the fire did not originate from the 1996 Ford F-150, and specifically not from its speed control deactivation switch."

She said evidence suggests that the fire started elsewhere in the garage, spreading to the truck and the home.

"Ford continues to work and cooperate with NHTSA on its investigation of this tragic incident," Vokes said in a statement.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating more than 3.7 million Ford pickups and sport utility vehicles because of a defect in the cruise control switch. The probe includes Ford F-150 pickups from the 1995-1999 and 2001-2002 model years, and Ford Expeditions and Lincoln Navigators from the 1997-1999 and 2001-2002 model years.

NHTSA said in March it had received 218 complaints of engine fires from the cruise control switch.

The investigation of the popular vehicles does not include the 2000 model years of the trucks and SUVs, which was covered by a recall in January of 792,000 Ford F-150 pickups, Ford Expeditions and Lincoln Navigators from the 2000 model year. The 2001 F-Series Supercrew trucks also were affected.

Ford has said the cruise control switch could short circuit and cause an engine compartment fire when the vehicle is parked or driven, even if cruise control is not in use.

The lawsuit claims Ford limited the recall to vehicles it manufactured in 2000 to save money, and that the company also used the switches in models made from 1995 to 2002. The Mohlis' F-150 was a 1996 model.

"If the company knows about the problem with the 2000 models, then it must also know the same trouble exists with the 1996 truck and the others," said attorney Rob Ammons. "They made a decision based on cost. And in May, Darletta Mohlis paid the price."

The lawsuit was filed in the 157th Judicial District Court in Harris County, Texas. It also names as defendants Texas Instruments, the maker of the switches, and DuPont manufactured Kapton and Teflon coatings used in the switch.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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