Class Action Addresses 15-Passenger Vans' Safety Problems
Canadian suit filed by mother who lost son in crash10/05/2010 | ConsumerAffairs | Automotive
By Jon Hood
Jonathan Hood is a New York City attorney who practices intellectual property law. He is also knowledgeable about consumer class actions and criminal defense. Read Full Bio→
Stella Gurr, of British Columbia, lost her son, Michael Benedetti Gurr, in September 2008, when the Ford E-Series van in which he was riding ran off the Trans-Canada Highway, rolling several times.
The suit is being handled by Tony Merchant, the high-profile Canadian attorney who has filed, among others, a lawsuit taking issue with Facebook's privacy policies and one alleging that denture cream manufacturers failed to warn consumers that overuse of the products could lead to zinc poisoning.
Merchant is planning to seek a refund for every Canadian who owns one of the vans, and is pursuing compensation for anyone with a relative who was killed or injured in an E-Series crash. Merchant eventually plans to expand the lawsuit to all ten Canadian provinces.
Lobbying for stricter regulation
Since her son's death, Gurr has been urging the Canadian government to ban the use of 15-seat vans to transport children on field trips and other outings. Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick have already instituted such bans, and U.S. law prohibits the vans from being used for children of high school age and younger. No such ban exists for college students, however.
Joining Gurr in her lobbying effort is Isabelle Hains of New Brunswick, who lost her son in a similar accident in January 2008. Daniel Hains was one of seven high school basketball players killed on the way back from an away game when their Ford E-Series van collided head-on with a transport truck on an icy highway.
Last week, Gurr and Hains met with Canadian Transportation Minister Chuck Strahl, who has been studying measures to more strictly regulate the vans.
"It's my duty as a mother to send a message loud and clear to the [department] to ban 15-passenger vans," Hains told reporters last week. "The time for studying and debating passed a long time ago."
Long history of problems
And indeed, the vans' safety problems have been well-established for years. In April 2001, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a consumer advisory stating that the vans are especially prone to roll over when fully loaded, and that only trained drivers should be behind the wheel in those situations. According to NHTSA's analysis, when the vans are filled to capacity, their center of gravity shifts rearward and upward, which increases the chance that the driver will lose control, especially in emergency situations.
The Safety Forum, a U.S. watchdog group, calls the vans "high-riding death traps" that are "among the most lethal vehicles on the road today." According to the group, 15-passenger vans are involved in rollover accidents more often than any other type of vehicle, with over half of the victims either killed or seriously injured as a result. And while other cars involved in a single-vehicle accident have only a 33 percent chance of rolling over, the vans' rollover rate is above 50 percent.
Between 1992 and 2002 alone, over 1,100 people were killed in single-vehicle accidents involving the vans, according to NHTSA.
Yet despite the vans' atrocious safety record, they remain on the road, with predictable results. On Sunday, four members of a Georgia church group were killed when their Dodge Ram Wagon blew a tire and rolled over, ejecting several of its occupants.