Relatives sue Ford, citing role in crash

Relatives of the Tongan royal couple and their driver, killed by Edith Delgado’s speeding white Mustang in 2006, have filed two more wrongful death lawsuits against Ford Motor Co., claiming the design of the car they were killed in makes it susceptible to rolling over.

Prince Tu’ipelehake, 54, Princess Kaimana, 45, and their driver Vinisia Hefa, 36, of East Palo Alto, were riding in a Ford Explorer whenthey died in a July 2006 rollover accident on U.S. Highway 101 in Menlo Park.

A year later, Delgado, a 19-year-old Redwood City resident, was convicted of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter in their deaths.

The additional cases bring the number of lawsuits stemming from the crash to three. In June, the prince’s sons and his brother, Mailefihi Tu’ipelehake, filed suit. On

Jan. 2, a new lawsuit was filed by Fifita Langola Hefa, the driver’s mother. And on Jan. 16, the princess’s mother, Tuna Fielakepa, filed suit.

The lawsuits also name Delgado and her father, Jose Delgado, as well as John Hiss III, the Explorer’s owner. The lawsuit by Fielakepa also names Hefa’s estate, claiming the Explorer was not maintained properly.

Philip Weltin, the Oakland attorney who is representing Fielakepa, said the death of the princess has left her mother without an income. The princess’ 47-year-old brother has since died of a heart attack, leaving behind nine children for Fielakepa to help raise and support, he said.

Frank Kelly, an attorney for Ford Motor Co., said all three lawsuits will likely be consolidated into one, and all parties have indicated a willingness to find a settlement out of court. None of the plaintiffs has named a dollar amount yet, and no formal mediation dates have been set, he said.

The lawsuits, all filed in Santa Clara County, claim the Explorer’s high center of gravity rendered it unstable and that its handling was compromised by under-inflated and oversized tires.

Ford officials issued a statement Tuesday extending sympathy to the victims’ families and defending the Explorer’s design.

“It has already been determined, beyond a reasonable doubt, by a California jury that reckless driving by Ms. Delgado knocked the Ford vehicle out of control while it was traveling at highway speeds, causing it to roll over. Ford vehicles are designed and extensively tested to provide safety. The allegations in these lawsuits don’t identify any other vehicle that could have better protected this family,” it read.

tbarak@examiner.com

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