B.C. Court of Appeal Upholds $4.8 Million Volvo Personal Injury Award

Truck accidents are not always the result of driver negligence. In many cases, the vehicle itself may have some sort of defect that causes a driver to lose control. Sometimes these defects are the result of shoddy maintenance by the truck’s owner. But the problem may also go all the way back to when the truck was designed or manufactured. We dig into this in today’s case study on the most recent Volvo personal injury case.

Hans v. Volvo Trucks North America: Defective Wiring Causes Tractor-Trailer to Collide with Itself

On November 2, 2018, the B.C. Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal brought by Volvo Trucks North America and another company against a personal injury judgment issued by a Supreme Court judge last year. The plaintiffs in this case are a husband and wife who owned and operated a commercial truck manufactured by Volvo and sold to them by the other defendant. They blamed a defect in the truck for a 2009 accident that caused them to sustain serious injuries.

Here are some more details related to the accident. The plaintiffs purchased the truck in December 2007. After just a few months, the plaintiffs said they were experiencing “electrical problems” with the vehicle, notably “slight corrosion on the batteries and circuit breakers.” In July 2008–less than a year after purchasing the vehicle–the plaintiffs were involved in a minor accident after the truck’s electrical system failed completely.

About six months after that incident, in January 2009, the plaintiffs were travelling in the truck through Manitoba. The husband was driving while the wife rested in the sleeper berth. Once again, the truck lost all electrical power. According to court records, the attached trailer started to “jack-knife toward the driver’s side of the truck.” Eventually, the trailer collided with the truck cab, forcing the vehicle off-road into a ditch.

Although the plaintiffs suffered no serious physical injuries in the accident, they did claim other damages. The husband was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and was unable to return to commercial driving. At the time of the trial, the judge noted the husband continued to suffer “serious” psychological injuries from the accident.

Judge: Accident Victim Requires 24-Hour Supervision Due to PTSD, Depression

An inspector commissioned by the plaintiffs’ trucking company later determined the cause of the electrical failure was a loose nut on the “cab positive terminal.” This terminal is part of a plate that connects the batteries on the driver’s side of the truck’s cab to the engine. The nut is used to attach both the positive and negative terminals to the plate, ensuring the proper flow of electricity throughout the vehicle.

The trial court found that Volvo, as the manufacturer, failed to properly torque the nut on the cab positive terminal “to the required standard.” This constituted negligent manufacture. In addition, the judge determined Volvo committed negligent design when it failed to assign the highest possible “criticality rating” to the specifications for the truck’s electrical wiring system. Finally, Volvo also failed in its “duty to warn” the plaintiffs that its subcontractor had supplied the incorrect nut for the cab positive terminal.

In plain terms, the trial court held Volvo’s negligence caused the accident. The plaintiffs also proved that Volvo’s negligence was the “direct cause” of the husband’s PTSD and related psychological injuries. The judge further held that both plaintiffs were entitled to damages arising from their loss of income following the accident.

The trial court awarded damages of more than $4.8 million, which included the following:

  • $15,000 to the wife for her non-pecuniary damages, that is to say, her pain and suffering related to the accident;
  • $165,000 to the husband for his PTSD and related ailments, and other non-pecuniary damages;
  • For the husband’s future medical care, $75,000 for medications, $75,000 for rehabilitation therapies, and $1,684,000 for 24-hour care and supervision until the husband reaches the age of 75. (He is presently 43 years old.)
  • $517,826 to both plaintiffs for their past loss of income, which represents a total loss of $1,038,000, less deductions to avoid double recovery by the wife (for working as both a manager and driver) and income the couple earned “in mitigation” of their damages.
  • $1,925,000 to both plaintiffs for their future loss of income. This figure was based on the failure of the couple’s plans to start their own trucking business, which was derailed by the accident.

Trial Court’s Decisions Supported by “Substantial Evidence”

Volvo’s appeal attacked both the underlying findings of negligence and various parts of the trial court’s damage award. The Court of Appeal rejected all of Volvo’s arguments. The appeals court noted that most of Volvo’s arguments regarding negligence amounted to attacks on the trial judge’s “assessment and weighing of the evidence.” But it is not the role of an appellate court to retry the case or reweigh the evidence. The legal question is whether or not the judgment is “supported by the evidence,” and with respect to negligence, the Court of Appeals was satisfied the trial court met that standard.

With respect to damages, Volvo objected to the $1,684,000 award to pay for 24-hour supervision of the husband. The trial court determined such care was necessary to ensure the husband “does not take his own life over the next 25 years” due to his PTSD and severe depression. Volvo argued the award “lies far outside the range of common sense.” The Court of Appeal said while this case presented “atypical circumstances,” it once again held it was not in a position to second-guess the trial court, whose findings about the “severe frailty of [the husband’s] mental state” provided a “solid basis” for the award.

Similarly, the Court of Appeal found the rest of the trial judge’s reasons for the other components of the damage award were supported by substantial evidence and should not be disturbed.

Contact the Preszler Law Firm Today if You Have Been Injured in a B.C. Car Accident

It is important not to overlook psychological injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident. If you have been diagnosed with PTSD, depression, or similar mental ailments following an accident caused by the negligence of someone else, you should speak with a qualified Vancouver car accident lawyer to learn more about your legal options. Contact the Preszler Law Firm today to schedule a free consultation with a member of our legal team to discuss your case.

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CanLII

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