Every spring, thousands of Americans climb on an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) and take to their favorite trails, enjoying the outdoors with friends and family. In some parts of the country, off-roading has become a way of life, with kids from West Virginia to California starting early on their first ATV or side-by-side.
Off-Roading Accidents Leave Riders Severely Injured
As any experienced rider knows, off-roading isn’t a game. It takes skill, caution and extreme care to prevent serious injuries, which remain all-too-common in the ATV community.
Every year, an average of 428 people die in ATV-related accidents, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Tens of thousands suffer severe injuries, including numerous young children treated in our nation’s emergency departments on an annual basis.
In many cases, these accidents come down to adverse riding conditions, with weather and inadequate trail maintenance putting riders in jeopardy. Inexperienced or careless riders are another concern, since the slightest lapse in judgment can lead to a serious crash or roll-over.
Can ATV Companies Be Held Accountable?
In off-roading, a great deal of responsibility falls on the shoulders of riders, who need to use every precaution to protect themselves and their loved ones. Vehicle manufacturers also need to keep up their end of the bargain. Off-road vehicles are inherently dangerous, which means that ATV and side-by-side manufacturers have a strict duty to ensure that riders and passengers are protected by adequate safety measures. As many riders have learned, this crucial obligation isn’t always honored.
Every year, thousands of four wheelers, side-by-sides and other off-road vehicles are recalled, pulled from the market entirely over serious safety concerns. In many cases, though, the affected vehicles have already been purchased – and used – by unsuspecting riders and families, enthusiasts who have been unknowingly placed in harm’s way. When disaster strikes, the victims of a defective ATV may be able to pursue valuable financial compensation in a product liability lawsuit.
Design Defects Spur Product Liability Lawsuits
Off-road vehicles must be carefully designed and manufactured. In order to meet the demands of both experienced and novice riders, ATVs and side-by-sides have to be sufficiently tall to clear obstacles on the trail. This height, while necessary, creates a significant risk of danger, raising the vehicle’s center of gravity and increasing the chances of a life-threatening roll over accident. To compensate, engineers calibrate wheel and tire size to exacting standards, creating a larger surface area to grip the ground during turns. The vehicle’s wheelbase and frame can’t be disregarded, either.
All too often, off-road vehicle manufacturers neglect to equip their products with necessary safety features, or worse, design ATVs and side-by-side vehicles that are inherently dangerous. In doing so, these companies don’t just threaten the lives of unsuspecting riders; they leave themselves open to legal liability.
Injured riders may be eligible to pursue compensation in a civil lawsuit, demanding damages to cover their medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering. In tragic cases of a loved one’s death, surviving family members may be able to seek compensation in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Hundreds File Suit Over Yamaha Rhino Injuries, Deaths
In 2003, Japanese conglomerate Yamaha pioneered a new market in off-roading, introducing the public to its Rhino side-by-side (or recreational off-highway vehicle). Easier to handle than a traditional ATV, the Rhino was marketed heavily to aging riders, hunters and fishers – people looking for a rugged mode of transportation that could still deliver thrills.
The vehicle was an immediate hit, according to consumer safety watchdog FairWarning, but serious accident reports were soon to follow. In fact, Yamaha dealers pressed company executives with their own concerns just days after the Rhino was launched. In unsealed court documents, attorneys have revealed that dealerships in Virginia, Minnesota and Florida reported serious customer injuries – sustained during test drives of the Rhino – within the first year of the side-by-side’s release.
Yahama Accused Of Ignoring Early Stability Issues
Signs of dangerous instability, however, were apparent even earlier. According to company records used at trial, at least 25 Yamaha employees and test drivers were involved in roll-over accidents while riding the Rhino or prototype versions. Even Ike Miyachi, a vice president at Yahama, sustained injuries, breaking his toes in a Rhino test drive in 2002, one year before the off-road vehicle reached the US market. Weeks after Miyachi’s accident, a president for the US subsidiary of Yahama asked a troubling question, demanding an “update on [the Rhino’s] instability […] for future liability cases” in internal meeting records obtained by CBS News.
The executive’s concerns over stability were prophetic. By 2009, hundreds of injured riders and grieving families had filed their own product liability lawsuits against Yahama, accusing the company of selling an off-road vehicle with significant design defects. In their complaints, victims called the Rhino “dangerously unstable,” noting the vehicle’s remarkably narrow stance, high ground clearance and lack of rear differential. Inez Tenenbaum, then-chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, seemed to agree, saying the Rhino had “significant problems.”
Japanese ATV Giant Issues “Repair Program”
Even as the company’s liability in court increased, Yahama stood behind its vehicle.
The Rhino is “a safe, reliable and versatile vehicle,” one Yahama press release read. Company executives blamed “virtually every Rhino-related incident [on] at least one warned against behavior (such as failure to wear a seatbelt and / or helmet, underage driver, excessive speed, alcohol / drugs or inattention to terrain / collision).” An investigation by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, however, found that many of the fatal accidents had involved “turns at relatively low speeds and on level terrain.” Only six years after the Rhino’s release, federal investigators had already received reports on at least 70 deaths linked to the off-road vehicle.
Yamaha ultimately caved to regulatory pressure, announcing a “free repair program” on March 31, 2009. The company agreed to modify purchased Rhinos, widening the vehicle’s rear axle and installing half-doors to close off the previously-open rider compartment. In their lawsuits, dozens of riders had blamed the Rhino’s original lack of leg restraints for causing broken bones, as drivers and passengers reflexively thrust their legs out to brace themselves in a roll-over.
Court documents show that Yamaha engineers had briefly considered adding a leg restraint in their initial designs, but decided that equipping the Rhino with doors would “create such a feeling of safety […] that riders might not wear helmets or seat belts,” CBS reports.
Rhino Lawsuits Settle, Trials Find Mixed Results
Before long, word broke that Yahama had begun to settle injury and death lawsuits involving Rhino-related accidents. Over the next four years, reports suggest that Yahama settled nearly 200 lawsuits involving injuries and deaths related to the Rhino off-road vehicle.
Most of these claims never made it to a courtroom, and those lawsuits that did result in trial resulted largely in defense verdicts in favor of Yamaha. At least one case, however, initially decided in favor of the Japanese motor vehicle giant, ultimately led to a $3.3 million jury verdict for an injured plaintiff after being appealed to Alabama’s Supreme Court.
The mixed success of previous trials should not discourage injury victims from investigating their legal options further. If you or a loved one were injured in a Yamaha Rhino accident, contact an experienced attorney today to learn more about your family’s rights.
Fire Hazard Leads To Polaris Recall Of 13,000 ROVs
On September 1, 2016, recreational vehicle giant Polaris announced a recall of nearly 13,000 recreational off-highway vehicles (ROV) from the company’s RZR line. The vehicles, which come with a rear box and two or four seats, can create a serious of risk of fires. Federal investigators say that Polaris has received at least 19 reports of the vehicles catching fire, including six reports of burn injuries. One fire, which broke out in Utah’s American Fork Canyon, destroyed 15 acres of forest and left a young child with severe burns.
Vehicles Affected: Polaris Recall 2017
The affected vehicles were sold through Polaris dealers nationwide between August 2015 and July 2016. Models ran from $25,000 to $27,500 and were sold in blue, gray, orange and red.
- 2016 Polaris RZR XP Turbo
- 2016 Polaris RZR XP 4 Turbo
Polaris is offering free repairs to affected consumers, along with an extended warranty and discounts toward the purchase of a new vehicle. Owners of a recalled side-by-side have been instructed to stop using the product immediately and contact Polaris for more information.
Textron Issues Recall Of Bad Boy Off-Road Vehicles
Georgia-based company Textron Specialized Vehicles issued a recall for around 1,100 Bad Boy off-road utility vehicles on January 11, 2017. Lacking any seatbelts, the vehicles pose a significant risk or death in the event of a roll-over accident. At least two such incidents have already been reported, according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s recall website. In a 2014 roll-over, a 14-year-old boy was killed. A separate roll-over accident led to severe leg injuries in an adult male operator.
Vehicles Affected: Textron Bad Boy Recall 2017
Affected vehicles were sold at licensed Bad Boy dealers between November 2010 and June 2013. The product which sold for between $13,200 and $14,200.
- Bad Boy XTO
- Bone Collector XTO
Textron has agreed to install each recalled off-road utility vehicle with necessary seatbelts. Consumers have been advised to contact Textron directly to schedule a repair.
BRP Recalls 2017 Can-Am Maverick
On November 22, 2016, Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP) announced a recall of its 2017 Can-Am Maverick X3 side-by-side vehicles. The vehicle’s steering rack and pinion assembly may have been sold with “an improper amount of grease,” the CPSC reports, which could lead drivers to lose control of the vehicle and crash. While the Wisconsin-based BRP has received reports of at least 33 incidents, including several accounts involving intermittent or total steering lock, no injuries have yet been reported.
Vehicles Affected: BRP Recall 2016
Affected Can-Am Maverick X3 side-by-side vehicles were sold exclusively through registered Can-Am dealers nationwide between August 2016 and November 2016, retailing for $23,000 to $27,000.
- 2017 Can-Am Maverick X3 STD
- 2017 Can-Am Maverick X3 XDS
- 2017 Can-Am Maverick X3 XRS
Consumers have been instructed to stop using the recalled vehicles immediately and contact a BRP Can-Am side-by-side dealer to schedule a free repair.
Kawasaki Announces Recall Of 19,500 Teryx Vehicles
In December of 2015, Kawasaki issued a recall for an estimated 19,500 off-highway vehicles from the company’s Teryx and Teryx4 product lines. The side-by-side vehicles, which feature an automotive-style control system, have a thin floorboard that can be punctured by debris on the ground, resulting in injuries to occupants. In a public announcement, the Consumer Product Safety Commission says that Kawasaki has received over 600 reports of ground debris cracking or breaking the floorboards of affected vehicles. Eight riders have suffered injury to their lower extremities.
Vehicles Affected: Kawasaki Teryx Recall 2015
The affected vehicles, all of which hail from Kawasaki’s Teryx and Teryx4 lines, come in three separate styles: electric power steering (EPS), non-EPS and EPS LE. The LE style is equipped with a roof and aluminum wheels.
- 2012 Teryx4 750 4×4 (four-seater)
- 2013 Teryx4 750 4×4 (four-seater)
- 2014 Teryx4 800 4×4 (four-seater)
- 2015 Teryx4 800 4×4 (four-seater)
- 2016 Teryx4 800 4×4 (four-seater)
- 2014 Teryx 800 4×4 (two-seater)
- 2015 Teryx 800 4×4 (two-seater)
- 2016 Teryx 800 4×4 (two-seater)
Consumers are warned to stop using the affected side-by-side vehicles immediately. Contact an authorized Kawasaki dealer immediately to schedule a free repair.