CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) _ A dentist who contends his wife was killed by a deploying air bag is now accusing Ford Motor Co. of defamation for implying that he strangled her.

The Cape May County medical examiner said Tracy Thomas' 1997 death was caused by blunt force trauma consistent with a motor vehicle accident, and Dr. Eric Thomas has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Ford.

Medical experts retained by the Ford have said his wife's injuries were inconsistent with those of an air bag inflating, but were consistent with manual compression of the neck.

At a hearing Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate Joel Rosen, Thomas' attorney, Elliot Kolodny, said Ford's claims are so outrageous that they are slanderous. He asked permission to amend the lawsuit to include defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Court approval is needed to amend the lawsuit because lawyers working to defend a case usually have immunity from such claims. Ford attorney Floyd Abrams argued that lawyers should have latitude to say and do things in their clients' defense.

The judge said he would rule on the request later.

Thomas' suit claims his wife died in a Feb. 9, 1997, accident in which the Ford Explorer she was driving veered off a snow-covered road to avoid a deer and struck a pole.