$13.65 Mn Settlement for the Accidental Death of a Handicapped Child

A $13.65 million settlement was announced today on behalf of a Belleville, NJ family in a case involving the wrongful death of a handicapped child and serious injuries to four other family members.

Francisco Pena and his wife Karla Torres claimed that their 9 year old son, Marven Pena burned to death on August 5, 2004. The tragedy was due to the breaking of the drive shaft in the family's modified Ford Econoline van. This caused a hole in the fuel tank which favoured the van to catch fire.

"This horrible tragedy was certainly preventable. It is a case of negligent error, pure and simple," said attorney Greg Barnhart. "The award represents some modicum of justice for this family even if nothing can ever make up for the loss these people have suffered."

The Pena family was driving the van during a family trip to Florida when the accident occurred. The vehicle had been modified by Drive-Master Inc. of Fairview, New Jersey, a company specialized in providing mobility and accessibility for the physically challenged since 1952.

They modified the original driveshaft in order to allow clearance for the motorized under vehicle wheelchair lift and side swing cargo doors. The under vehicle lift was designed and manufactured by The Braun Company of Wilmac, Indiana.

It seems that the power doors failed to open, delaying the escape of the rear-seat passengers, because the designs of both the door system and an emergency manual bypass system were defective.

The settlement involved Drive-Master and The Braun Corporation as well as Hackettstown Ford, Inc. of Hackettstown, NJ, and undisclosed component part manufacturers and suppliers.

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