ATVs, or all-terrain vehicles, are motorized three-to-four wheeled vehicles used for recreation and work. They are considered to be extremely heavy as they weigh up to one-quarter of a ton and can reach speeds of up to 55 MPH. Because ATVs are considerably top-heavy, the chances of rollover are much higher than compared to most other vehicles. The chance of rollover combined with the weight of the vehicle causes a number of accidents each year. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”), ATV accidents cause 700 deaths, and injure 135,000 people annually.
In order to be considered an accident for legal purposes, an ATV accident must result in property damage, injury, and or/death. The ATV’s driver is most commonly responsible for the accident.
Injuries that are most commonly associated with ATV accidents would be traumatic brain injuries, or TBIs. Some examples of TBIs include, but may not be limited to:
- A permanent concussion;
- Neurologic injury and disorders;
- Spinal cord injuries;
- Neck injuries;
- Fractures; and
- Dislocation of various bones and joints.
Who Can Be Held Liable For ATV Injury Accidents?
The causes of most ATV accidents fall into one of two categories: operator behavior and equipment failure. The driver or operator is generally considered to be responsible if they:
- Drive without proper training;
- Haul a passenger or load against the manufacturer’s recommendations;
- Allow children to operate the ATV;
- Drive on public roads;
- Allow children to operate adult-size ATVs; and/or
- Drive while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, and/or medications
Some examples of when equipment may cause the accident would include failures associated with the:
- Steering mechanisms;
- Suspension; and
- Lighting equipment, such as headlights.
The ATV’s manufacturer could be held liable if a defective or poorly designed ATV is sold to the public. However, victims must prove that the defective ATV caused the accident in order to receive compensation from the company. Product liability claims are further discussed below.
Additionally, some states have no-fault insurance laws. What this means is that claims from less significant accidents will be minimized, and victims will receive their compensation more promptly. However, these laws can also hinder victims from receiving the amount of compensation that is needed in order to cover all expenses associated with the accident. It is for this reason that many people who have an accident in no-fault states hire a personal injury lawyer.
What Should I Know About Product Liability Claims?
If a consumer is injured by a product that is considered to be defective, they may be able to file a lawsuit on the basis of product liability. The legal concept of product liability includes rules establishing which parties are responsible for an injury, and when a plaintiff has a valid product liability claim.
Generally speaking, the following parties may be held legally responsible for a defective product that causes injury:
- Distributors; and
Product liability laws recognize two types of product liability claims: claims that are based on a defective design, and claims that are based on defective manufacturing.
A design defect is in the manner in which a product is made. This defect in the design renders the product inherently unsafe, and exists prior to the product being manufactured. An example of a design defect would be a car seat which does not properly restrain the child because of a design flaw.
A manufacturing defect is a defect resulting from the way that the product is assembled, or put together. Prior to and up to the point of assembly, there are no flaws with the product. However, during its assembly, the product becomes defective either due to a mistake or incorrect assembly, which renders it unsafe.
There are multiple theories of recovery for injuries that are caused by defective products under various state laws. In terms of product liability theories of recovery, there are two: the negligence theory of recovery, and the strict liability theory of recovery.
The negligence theory of recovery requires that a defendant owes consumers a duty to make, distribute, and/or sell products which are free from defects. If a consumer is injured, they will need to prove that the defendant breached that duty. As a result, the plaintiff sustained an injury which is able to be remedied by a monetary damages award.
This award is compensation for expenses which can be monetarily quantified, including:
- Medical expenses, such as doctor’s visits;
- Hospital expenses; and
- The cost of physical therapy, if necessary.
The strict liability theory of recovery allows recovery in specific types of cases. Because requiring a consumer to provide precisely how a product manufacturer was negligent in their product design is overly burdensome or even impossible, the law may permit a plaintiff to avoid being required to show negligence.
Under this theory, it does not matter how carefully a product was made; the defendant may still be held liable if a consumer suffers injuries. However, the plaintiff must show that:
- The manufacturer sold the product;
- The consumer used the product in a foreseeable manner;
- The product was not substantially changed from the condition in which it was first sold; and
- A defect in the product is what caused an injury to the plaintiff, which resulted in damages.
Compensation For ATV Injury Accidents
In order to obtain compensation for ATV injury accidents, victims must prove negligence either to insurance or to a court. In order to do so, they must prove one or both of the following:
- An injury was sustained; and/or
- The accident occurred directly due to the driver’s carelessness or because of a product liability theory.
There are some circumstances in which more than one person may be at fault for the accident. In these cases, liability is evenly distributed based on the estimated fault of each party. This is known as comparative negligence. Comparative negligence considers the plaintiff’s role in the accident, and allows the judge to reduce the monetary damages that may be awarded. In some cases, the damages award may be barred altogether when the plaintiff is found to be considerably responsible for the injuries that they suffered from the ATV accident.
- Pure Comparative Negligence: The amount that the victim can receive in monetary damages is reduced by their fault percentage. An example of this would be how if the plaintiff sues someone for $100,000 but is found to be 80 percent at fault, they could still receive $20,000 in damages;
- Modified Comparative Negligence (50% Rule): Plaintiff recovery is barred if they are found to be 50% or more at fault for the accident. If they are 49% or less negligent, they can still recover damages, reduced by their fault percentage; and
- Modified Comparative Negligence (51% Rule): Here, the same rule applies as above, but the percentage of plaintiff negligence that bars recovery is slightly higher. The damaged party can recover if they are 50% (or lower) responsible.
To reiterate, victims can be awarded compensation in order to cover one or more of the following costs:
- Lost income;
- Lost job prospects;
- Medical expenses;
- Physical and psychological pain; and
- Property repairs.
Do I Need A Lawyer For ATV Injury Accidents?
The majority of ATV accidents are handled directly through insurance. However, obtaining a personal injury lawyer may be necessary:
- If the insurance company refuses to fully compensate you for all damages;
- There are prolonged delays in settling the claim;
- The claim is denied by insurance or a government entity; and/or
- The negligent party is not insured.
You should contact a qualified car accident attorney if you need help filing an ATV injury claim. Your lawyer will also be able to represent you in court as needed, while working towards a suitable damages award.