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3/28/2008
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Bill Gates May Have to Testify In Xbox Fire Case

The lawyer in the case says he will proceed with efforts to depose Gates unless Microsoft settles for at least $25 million.

The lawyer for the family of a teenage girl who was horribly burned in a house fire allegedly sparked by a faulty Xbox game console is threatening to have Microsoft chairman Bill Gates testify about the safety of his company's offshore manufacturing practices.

Attorney William Tinning said in a letter to Microsoft last week that he would seek "an apex deposition for Mr. Gates given his worldwide speeches about the inadequacies of capitalism and the need for his Warren Buffet-funded charitable trust to bridge the gap.

"This is in direct contrast with his business organization policies," wrote Tinning. Microsoft is "one of the largest employers of low wage earners in China for products built to the specification of his company which have resulted in massive recalls for safety issues," he added.

A copy of the letter has been obtained by InformationWeek.

Tinning said he would proceed with efforts to depose Gates unless Microsoft settles for at least $25 million.

Microsoft has denied responsibility for the fire.

In the letter, Tinning said Kayla Lazo "virtually became melted" in a fire that ravaged her San Diego, Texas, home in June, 2006. She lost a leg as a result of injuries sustained in the blaze and suffered numerous other traumas.

The family blamed faulty wiring in an Xbox they owned and sued Microsoft and electronics retailer Gamestop in November 2006. Also named in the suit, now being heard in U.S. District Court in Texas, is Ji Haw Industrial, which manufactures power cords for the Xbox in China.

Tinning said Microsoft has until April 18 to respond to his demand for a settlement.

A Microsoft spokesman said: "What happened to Kayla Lazo is a tragedy and she and her family have our deepest sympathies. Nonetheless, we strongly believe the Xbox game console in Kayla's home had nothing to do with the fire that caused her injuries. The facts are on our side and we look forward to explaining our case to a jury."

The suit was originally filed by Lazo's mother, Bonnie Broquet, who has since died, according to public records. The lead plaintiff in the case is now Amador Lazo, the girl's father.

It's not the first time that the Xbox has been alleged to have caused a dangerous inferno.

The family of an Illinois infant that died in a house fire sued Microsoft last year, claiming that an Xbox video game system manufactured by the company and sold by Wal-Mart Stores overheated and sparked the blaze.

In 2005, a U.K. woman was reportedly pulled unconscious from a fire allegedly caused by an overheated Xbox system.

In February 2005, Microsoft announced a recall of more than 14 million Xbox power cords, citing fire concerns.

Editor's Note: This story was modified March 31 to add the statement from Microsoft.

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