10 Aug Surrey Man Injured in Accident Caused by Defective Truck – Part 2

This is the second of a series of three posts on the recent decision in Hans v. Volvo Trucks North America Inc., 2016 BCSC 1155. This post deals with the issue of Volvo’s responsibility for the accident. See the first post for a discussion of the facts underlying the case and the third post for an analysis of the damages award.

As you may recall from our first post on this case, Amandeep and Pavandeep Hans’ lives were forever changed when their Volvo 780 semi-trailer truck suddenly lost all electrical power on a dark, wintery night. Amandeep lost control of the fully-loaded vehicle which ended up in the ditch following a truly terrifying series of events. He sustained profound psychological and psychiatric injuries which left him completely disabled from work. The couple sued Volvo for negligent design and manufacture of the 780 truck, as well as for failing to warn them of the possibility of a total failure of its electrical system.

An electrical engineer closely examined the Plaintiff’s 780 truck after the accident. He determined that the electrical failure resulted from a loose nut. The purpose of that nut was to secure in place the red “positive” cable which (in conjunction with the black “negative” cable) delivered power to the cab of the semi-trailer truck. The looseness of the nut meant that power to critical systems would be lost with only a slight movement of the cable.

Volvo admitted that the loose nut caused the electrical failure which resulted in the accident. However, Volvo argued that the nut did not become loose as a result of its negligent manufacture or design.

As part of its defence, Volvo pointed to the fact that the Plaintiffs did not put any expert evidence before the court to establish the standard of care for manufacturing or designing the electrical system in a semi-tractor truck. Mr. Justice Davies rejected that argument. Since the parties had agreed that the loose nut caused the accident, the Court determined that the Plaintiffs only needed to prove that the components in question were defective when they left the manufacturer’s factory. They could accomplish this by showing that no other person had created the hazard afterwards. That would raise a “practically irresistible” inference of negligent manufacture.

The Court found that Volvo had negligently manufactured the vehicle. Justice Davies noted that there was no evidence that anyone other than Volvo technicians had serviced the truck, and therefore no evidence that any other person had created the hazard. This led to the conclusion that the nut must have been loose when it left the factory or became loose during operation as a result of a failure to tighten it to the specified torque values during installation. This created the irresistible inference of negligence on Volvo’s part.

As for negligent design, the Court held that the Plaintiffs needed to identify the defect, establish that this defect created a “substantial likelihood of harm” and establish the existence of an alternative design that was safer and economically feasible to manufacture. In this regard, the defect in question was the loose nut. The creation of a substantial likelihood of harm occurred as a result of Volvo’s failure to assign a “criticality 1” rating to assembly of that part of the electrical system, which would have resulted in special care being taken to ensure that the nuts were correctly installed. Making this a “criticality 1” task would have been safer and economically feasible. The Court concluded that Volvo negligently designed the 780 truck.

The Court also found that Volvo acted negligently in failing to warn the Plaintiffs of the possibility of electronic failure. By October 2008, Volvo knew or ought to have known of the danger to drivers due to the possibility of electronic failure in its 780 trucks because that is when Volvo became aware that one of its part suppliers was not complying with Volvo’s design specifications. This gave rise to a duty to notify users of the 780 trucks that their vehicles were not correctly manufactured, which created a risk of harm. Finding that the Plaintiffs would have sought repair of their truck upon receipt of such notification, as they had done when previous problems had arisen, Justice Davies concluded that Volvo breached its duty to warn.

In summary, the Court found Volvo liable for the Plaintiffs’ accident as a result of its negligent manufacture and design of the 780 truck, as well as its failure to warn them of the potential for a catastrophic electrical failure of the truck. By Volvo’s own admission, the loose nut and resultant electrical failure caused the accident.

What remains then is the question of compensation, which I will discuss in our third and final post on this case.