B.C. woman whose son died two years ago in an accident involving a 15-passenger van has launched a national class action lawsuit against Ford Motor Company of Canada, the van’s manufacturer.
Nanaimo resident Stella Gurr launched the suit in Winnipeg through the Merchant Law Group, one of the major law firms involved in getting settlements for residential school survivors.
Gurr’s 26-year-old son Michael Gurr died when a Ford 15-passenger van rolled over on the Trans-Canada Highway in Manitoba on Sept. 25, 2008.
The lawsuit seeks compensation for families of victims who have died in accidents involving the vehicles and for organizations and individuals who own the vans.
In addition, the suit seeks to stop Ford from making the vans unless they can reengineer and “make them safe,” explains Tony Merchant of Merchant Law Group.
“They have a van that was engineered and designed for transport of goods, so it ought to be carrying paint cans or boxes of flowers—that is what the design was for,” says Merchant.
“The result is that in essence you have design flaws, because it wasn’t designed for people.”
The lawsuit needs to be certified in court, which is expected to take place five or six months from now. The law firm intends to launch similar suits in other provinces within the next few weeks.
Merchant says they have had a number of families of people who were killed or injured in accidents involving the van register with them, and they are still receiving calls.
Kerri Stoakley, a spokesperson for Ford Canada, said in an email that the company has not seen the lawsuit.
He added that “Ford vehicles meet or exceed all applicable Canadian motor vehicle safety standards. As with all our vehicles, Ford thoroughly tests extended passenger vans to ensure they provide a high level of safety.”
'Death Trap on Wheels'
Gurr has teamed up with Isabelle Hains, another mother of a 15-passenger van crash victim, to lobby the federal and provincial governments to ban schools from using these types of vehicles.
The two were in Halifax last week where federal Transport Minister Chuck Strahl was holding meetings with his provincial counterparts.
Hains lost her 17-year-old son in the infamous Bathurst, N.B., crash in 2008 that took the lives of seven high school students and their coach’s wife.
The federal ministry is currently conducting a safety review of the 15-passenger van. Transport Canada spokesperson Maryse Durette says that after a review by provincial authorities, the final results will be published on Transport Canada’s website later this year.
Mothers of the crash victims had a private meeting with Strahl and his provincial counterparts where they presented their concerns.
“There was consensus to working collaboratively towards a national approach on the use of 15- passenger vans,” says Durette.
Strahl also committed to examining the classification of multi-function activity buses under the school bus category as well as including crash-worthiness testing as part of the ministry’s safety review of the 15-passenger van, Durette adds.
Research by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that 15-passenger vans with 10 or more occupants were three times the rollover ration compared to those with fewer than 10 occupants.
The latest tragedy involving the vans occurred last Sunday when a 1987 Dodge Ram Wagon blew a tire and flipped on a highway in Georgia, resulting in the death of four people. The 15-passenger van was overloaded with 19 passengers.
The Safety Forum, an American consumer watchdog agency, says that the vans are so unsafe that they are “literally a death trap on wheels.”
Federal U.S. law forbids 12- to 15- passenger vans to be sold or leased as new vehicles to carry school students. Many states in the U.S. also prohibit the use of these vans to transport school children.
In Canada, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia have similar bans for the use of the vans by schools.
NDP MP Yvon Godin has introduced a private member’s bill to ban the use across Canada of 15-passenger vans to transport school children.