Volvo Trucks North America has been ordered to pay a Surrey couple nearly $5 million after being found negligent in a tractor-trailer crash in 2009.
The B.C. Supreme Court ruling, released Friday, found Volvo was negligent in installing hardware on the tractor’s engine, causing the loss of electrical power.
Amandeep and Pavandeep Hans were travelling along a highway, returning to their home following a long trip that extended from the U.S. to Eastern Canada and Manitoba.
Amandeep was pulling a fully-loaded trailer about 65 to 70 km/h.
Without warning, all electrical power in the truck was lost, including the power steering, headlights and interior lights.
According to the ruling, Amandeep saw the trailer begin to jack-knife, and heard the sound of tires squealing, and sparks flying from the trailer’s landing gear hitting the pavement.
The truck was forced off the road and into a ditch, coming to rest on the driver’s side of the cab.
He and his wife managed to get out and onto the roadway in the freezing night, but a Manitoba Hydro vehicle happened by shortly after the crash, and gave the couple shelter.
While neither suffered serious physical injuries, their lives have changed dramatically, the judgement said.
Amandeep is now “a shadow of his former self physically, emotionally and socially,” and is “incapable of enjoying life as he formerly did.”
During court hearings, medical experts said he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder caused by the crash and his reaction to it.
Justice Barry Davies awarded the couple $4.86 million, including $1.45 million to Amandeep for loss of future earning capacity, and $1.78 for his future care and supervision, medication and rehabilitation therapies.
Lawyer Les Mackoff said his clients have lived very modestly since the 2009 crash, with Pavandeep working in the early mornings, and after school, every day of the week, with her days commonly 20 hours.
Amandeep has been diagnosed with a very serious chronic form of PTSD, and all treatment modes have failed so far, Mackoff said.
“There’s some small hope that his function will improve somewhat, but there’s a great danger of him harming himself in the future as well,” he said. “It’s a very delicate situation.”
Mackoff said post-traumatic stress disorder “actually physically changes the way the human brain works.”
But not everybody reacts the same way to the same stressful incident.
“Two veterans can be involved in an IED (improvised explosive device) exploding in front of them and watching a comrade be blown to bits. One guy goes on and never recovers and another person says gee that was a horrible thing, but it has no appreciable affect on them,” Mackoff said.
Volvo’s engineer admitted, Mackoff said, that they knew there were some trucks that had left the factory without a nut properly tightened on a critical joint where the electrical cables pass through a bulkhead between the engine compartment and the passenger cab.
All the electrical wires from the truck’s engine terminate on what’s known as a pass-through plate, he said, and an improperly fastened nut loosened up and caused a failure of the electrical connection as the couple drove through Manitoba.
The judge found that Volvo had notice of the potential problems with the electrical defect, but failed to warn people.
The power failure that led to the accident wasn’t the first for the Hans’ in their Volvo truck which they bought new in 2008.
On July 4, 2008 they were heading into Regina when they suffered a catastrophic failure in the middle of a sunny day.
But Mackoff said they were lucky as they were travelling at low speeds and there was no traffic.
They brought the truck to Volvo, who attributed the problem to a master fuse blowing.
Volvo replaced the fuse, and the couple were told not to worry about it, Mackoff said.