Saskatchewan Court of Appeal orders GM expert to appear in court over SUV fire

By CRM Staff 

Toronto, Ontario — April 5, 2019 —The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal has ordered a General Motors of Canada expert to appear in court.

The demand comes as a result of a Saskatchewan man’s SUV starting on fire on the side of a highway.

In December of 2015, Arthur Wells was driving home in his GMC Envoy west of Kindersley, Sask., when he heard a loud noise coming from the vehicle and started seeing sparks.

Wells managed to pull over to the shoulder of the highway right before the SUV’s power failed, resulting in the vehicle rolling backward down a hill. Once stopped, Wells was momentarily trapped, unable to escape from his vehicle. Luckily for the then 84-year-old man, bystanders were able to smash the SUV’s windows, rescuing him from inside.

Minutes after the rescue, the SUV caught fire and burst into flames.

“When the police came and the fire trucks came, there was nothing left of it,” Wells said in an interview with CBC News. “The [SUV] just went up in flames.”

In 2017, Wells sued General Motors of Canada over the fire, stating that a manufacturer’s fault was to blame.

When the case was first launched Wells’s lawyer asked GM for any documents related to spontaneous under-hood fires in their vehicles from 2005 until 2015 and to cross-examine a company expert who had sent the court a written report on the fire.

The result was a Queen’s Bench justice ultimately calling the suit a “fishing expedition” and dismissing the case.

In March the province’s appeals court overturned the initial judgment, ordering the company’s senior technical expert to appear in court for cross-examination.

The court ruled that GM’s expert offered no opinion as to why the vehicle’s brakes failed, or to the sound, Wells heard before the fire.

“In the context of a fire with no apparent external cause, but with some indication supporting the common sense inference that there may have been manufacturer’s defect, (the expert’s) general statement cries out for explanation,” read the decision.

According to CBC News, Wells said he was pleased with the decision.

“I came within a minute of not being here, and I still have trouble getting in and out of vehicles,” he said. “For about three months, I didn’t even want to get in a vehicle.”

The new lawsuit questioned whether a faulty door sensor, which was the subject of a recall, could have been at fault. GM’s technical expert said, in an affidavit filed for the original case, the vehicle had been inspected in the recall and he doubted the sensor was to blame, due to the absence of evidence of high heat in the drivers-side door.

A new court date has yet to be set.

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