Man sues BMW Canada for $2M alleging defect caused highway fire

A man from Cambridge, Ont. is suing BMW Canada for $2 million dollars, alleging the company owes him after a car fire led to income loss.

David Batey alleges company failed to reveal manufacturing defect that led to fire

Batey's vehicle, the 2008 BMW 335XI was listed for recall twice in 2016 and 2017. His accident occurred on May 26, 2015. (Submitted by David Batey )

A man from Cambridge, Ont. is suing BMW Canada for $2 million after his vehicle caught on fire on the highway in May 2015.

David Batey said he was driving from Cambridge to Niagara Falls three years ago when his car, a 2008 335xi BMW Coupe, caught fire. 

"All of a sudden, an orange flame and black smoke emanates from the right front wheel well," said Batey. "I'm going, 'Oh my God,' and I'm literally getting out of a car that's on fire."

"I couldn't even reach my then-Blackberry," he said. "I just kind of stood with her and watched my car literally go up in flames." 

Batey said his car was eventually extinguished and towed. He said his insurance company compensated him for the car and provided a "small amount" for wage recovery. 

Vehicle listed for recall 

Two years later, in March 2017, Batey decided to sue BMW Canada, alleging they used defective components in manufacturing his car.

The suit alleges BMW allowed the vehicle to be sold, creating a dangerous situation that could cause injuries. 

Batey and his wife, Sue Brame, filed a statement of claim against BMW Canada and Stuart Budd & Sons, a dealership in Oakville, Ont. Brame is suing for an additional $250,000. 

In November 2017, BMW made an international announcement recalling 1.4 million vehicles worldwide for risk of fire.

Batey's car model, a 335xi Coupe, was one of the 15,000 vehicles in Canada listed for recall for the driver's front air bag module and a blower regulator wiring harness, which could cause fire if it produces too much heat. 
David Batey said the accident coincidentally happened close to the anniversary of his childhood home burning down 40 years earlier. (Submitted by David Batey)

In BMW Canada's statement of defence, the company denied all claims and stated, "all relevant parts and workmanship of the vehicle were reasonable, appropriately safe, or merchantable quality and fit for their intended purpose."  

The company stated the fire in Batey's case was caused by negligence and that Batey failed to maintain the vehicle and make sure it was in good working order.

BMW Canada's defence also says there was a "spoliation of evidence," where "BMW Canada has been deprived of any opportunity to inspect the vehicle." 

"They're saying we can't test the car because it was scrapped," Batey said. "Well it was on fire and there wasn't much for it to be able to test." 

Stuart Budd and Sons denied the allegations in their statement of defence, and said they had no knowledge of some of the claims. They also said Batey was negligent.

Crash triggered anxiety, man says

Batey said the accident coincidentally happened close to the anniversary of his childhood home burning down 40 years earlier, when his family was living in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. That has triggered anxiety, he said. 

"It was the spark that rekindled old memories," he said. "I have flashbacks all the time. I'm seeing my physicians, being prescribed this and that to keep my life in check."

Batey's statement of claim says the trauma from the accident compromised his ability to earn money. 

The statement of claim, filed by his lawyer Daniel Michaelson, says Batey suffered "serious and permanent impairments of important physical, mental and psychological functions" and as a result of the accident, his "ability to work and earning capacity has been permanently impaired." 
Léa Manocchio and Vito Mucciacciaro said they found out their car was on fire when a neighbour knocked on their window. (CBC)

"All of this is coming from literally getting out of a car that's on fire," Batey said. 

The statement of claim also reads that Batey has "has incurred the loss of past and future income" and will "lose future employment income, benefits and pension." 

Michaelson said the parties will now proceed to the "discovery stages," which is finding evidence to go to trial. 

9 complaints since 2004: Transport Canada

In July 2016, a couple who lives in St. Leonard, Que., had their BMW truck, an X3 XDrive 28 model, catch fire in their driveway. 

"My wife came out, and when she opened the door, she just saw smoke, and then a flame just went off," said Vito Mucciacciaro, the former owner of the truck. 

After firefighters dealt with the incident, Mucciacciaro's insurance company, La Capital, sent the car to a third party, ProLad Experts, for investigation.
Léa Manocchio can't shake the memory of running to the window and seeing her car on fire. 'Sometimes I wake up and go check if the other car is okay,' she said. (CBC)

In their report, Prolad Experts said the responsibility for the fire fell upon BMW Canada, as the manufacturer. 

According to Transport Canada, there have been nine complaints reported to their Defect Investigations and Recalls division regarding fires in the BMW 3-series, since 2004.

George Iny, the director of the Automobile Protection Association (APA), said he had heard of "several" complaints about BMW vehicles catching fire. 

"We're aware of fires with property damages involving those BMWs," Iny said, stating they came from Ontario, Quebec and B.C. 

Mucciacciaro's vehicle was later listed for recall in 2016. He said he was compensated by his insurance company for his truck at market value, which in his opinion, was not an adequate amount because of how infrequently he drove the vehicle. 

He said he tried to get compensation from BMW Canada, saying the fire was due to a manufacturing defect, but the company declined. 

"They didn't do anything for me ... At the end, not even an, 'I'm sorry,'" Mucciacciaro said. 

Customer safety a priority, BMW says

Batey said he was also frustrated by the amount of time BMW Canada took to respond to him. 

George Iny, from the APA said this particular case has "lingered." 

"There were claims of these cars catching on fire. Initially, our sense was BMW was slow to react," Iny said.

Iny said after the recall was issued by BMW in 2017, dealers were "diligent to get those parts replaced — as a rule." 

In an email statement to CBC News, Marc Belcourt, BMW Canada's director of corporate communications, wrote, "Customer safety is our number one priority. In the event a vehicle is subject to recall, we notify customers with affected vehicles in compliance with Transport Canada regulations."    

BMW Canada stated they are "unable to comment" on David Batey's case because the "matter is currently in litigation." 

In terms of Mucciacciaro's car, the company said the matter was already resolved with his insurance company and they "are not in a position to discuss the details."  

BMW Canada's defence also says there was a "spoliation of evidence," where "BMW Canada has been deprived of any opportunity to inspect the vehicle." (Submitted by David Batey )

About the Author

Peggy Lam

Reporter

Peggy is a reporter and editor based in Kitchener-Waterloo. Prior to landing in KW, she has worked in Beijing, Vancouver, Toronto, Winnipeg and St. John's, covering daily news and current affairs. Got a story idea? Email her at peggy.lam@cbc.ca or tweet her @peggylam_

With files from the CBC's Carmen Ponciano and Jackie Sharkey