ATV Defects and Recall Lawsuit
On April 2, 2018, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced that Polaris Industries Inc. had agreed to pay a $27.5 million civil penalty to settle charges concerning their lack of timely reporting of safety issues to the commission. According to the CPSC, instead of immediately reporting defects in their RZR and Ranger recreational off-road vehicles (ROVs), the company waited an unreasonable amount of time to share the information, putting many consumers at risk of serious injuries and even death.
Polaris is just one example of the many ROV and all-terrain vehicle (ATV) manufacturers that have had problems with the design and manufacture of their vehicles—problems that may put riders and passengers in danger. Every year thousands of these vehicles are recalled because of these defects, but often too late to save lives.
According to the CPSC, for example, by the time Polaris finally reported the defect occurring in their RZRs and Rangers, they’d received reports of 150 fires, including one that resulted in the death of a 15-year-old passenger, as well as 11 burn injuries.
The Pittsburgh lawyers at Chaffin Luhana are currently investigating cases in which ATVs and other off-road vehicles caused serious injuries and/or deaths. If you or a loved one used one of these products and then suffered from serious injuries, you may be eligible to file an ATV defect or ATV recall lawsuit.
ATVs are Inherently Dangerous
“All-terrain vehicles” or “off-road vehicles” are motorized four-wheeled vehicles designed to be used off-highway for recreation and for getting around rough terrain. They’ve become very popular over the past several years as family fun machines, and are often used on camping trips and vacations, as well as for other outdoor excursions.
The vehicles have a reputation for being dangerous, however. An ATV can travel at 60 miles an hour and weights up to 800 pounds. According to the latest data from the CPSC, there were 14,654 ATV-related fatalities between 1982 and 2016, with 22 percent of those occurring in children younger than 16 years of age. In 2013, the most recent year where reporting is considered complete, 70 of the 590 ATV-related fatalities were in children under 16.
In 2016, there were also an estimated 101,200 ATV-related emergency department-treated injuries in the U.S. An estimated 26 percent of those involved children younger than 16 years of age.
The CPSC has also analyzed the data to find which states have the most reported ATV-related fatalities between 1982 and 2016. They found that Texas ranked first, followed by California, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Florida, with New York coming in eighth.
Causes of ATV Accidents
There are many things that can cause an ATV accident, including the following:
- Driver is inexperienced; driver error
- Driving the vehicle on a paved surface (ATVs handle poorly on pavement)
- More riders on the vehicle than it is designed for
- Operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Improper positioning of the vehicle
- Performing dangerous stunts; inappropriate hill climbing
- Vehicle rollover
- Lack of protective gear
The most dangerous time to operate an ATV is in the first month. Statistics show that new ATV drivers have an injury rate 13 times higher than the overall average injury rate for ATV operators. Safety advocates recommend hands-on training before riding an ATV, with the ATV Safety Institute offering ATV classes nationally, but many operators fail to go through that training. Nearly half of injured drivers have less than one year experience, and about one-fourth have less than one month experience.
Training is necessary because there are many hazards present when operating an ATV. Unknown and changing terrain can present new dangers in a blink of an eye, such as a trench or ditch or unexpected hill that if not maneuvered successfully, can result in a rollover or tip-over. ATVs are not designed for operation on pavement, and are less controllable on that surface, but if users ride on pavement anyway they are more at risk of losing control and crashing, particularly into another vehicle.
Taking passengers can also impair the safe operation of the vehicle, as a simple shift in weight can be enough to send the ATV off-balance. Regular maintenance is needed to keep the vehicle in top operating order, but is often neglected.
Protective gear should be worn at all times, but riders often leave it at home. In a study of ATV-related deaths in Virginia, 65 percent resulted from head and neck injuries. Of these fatalities, three-quarters of the users were not wearing a helmet at the time of the accident. The CPSC estimates that 25 percent of those who died from head injuries sustained in ATV accidents would have lived had they been wearing a helmet.
Then there is the risk that the machine itself will have some sort of defect that could pose a crash hazard to the driver and/or passenger.
Types of Defects Associated with ATVs
Over the past several years, there have been numerous ATV recalls implemented because of defects in the manufacturing or design of the vehicles. As noted above, many were too late to save some riders. If you have an ATV, be sure to check with the manufacturer to see if it is under any current recalls, and if it is, stop using the vehicle or get it repaired immediately.
These recalls were implemented because of various types of defects on the machines. We’ve included some examples below.
In 2008, the CPSC announced a recall of about 30,000 Razor Dirt Quad electric powered ride-on vehicles because of throttle issues. The control module for the throttle could fail and cause the vehicle to unexpectedly surge forward, posing risk of injury to the user or a bystander. Razor received 60 reports of vehicles doing just that before implementing the recall, including two reports of injuries.
In 2016, the CPSC announced a recall of about 7,000 Yamaha vehicles because of throttle problems. Water could get into the throttle cable and freeze during cold weather, which would prevent the throttle from returning to idle. This could cause the rider to lose control.
In 2017, the CPSC announced a recall of about 2,800 Polaris Scrambler vehicles because of throttle problems. The throttle release switch could fail, posing a crash hazard. The company received nine reports of such failures, with two resulting in minor injuries.
In April 2018, the CPSC announced a recall of about 5,600 Polaris Phoenix 200 vehicles because the throttle limiter could fail due to damage during shipping, posing a crash hazard. Polaris received nine reports of a damaged throttle limiter prior to the recall, including one report of throttle limiter failure that resulted in minor injuries.
In 2005, the CPSC announced a recall of about 21,900 Kawasaki Brute Force ATVs because of steering control problems. With wear or severe impact, tie rod separation could occur, causing the front wheel to separate from the steering control. This could result in the rider losing control, which could cause serious injury or death. Kawasaki received about 140 reports of tie rod problems before implementing the recall, including four reports of injuries.
In 2016, the CPSC announced a recall of over 2,000 BRP side-by-side vehicles due to steering problems. The steering rack and pinion assembly could have an improper amount of grease, resulting in a loss of steering control and crash hazard. The company received 33 incident reports of intermittent or complete steering lock, but no injuries were reported.
In April 2018, the CPSC announced a recall of about 6,500 BRP Can-Am Outlander and Outlander Max ATVs because the dynamic power steering shaft could break, causing a loss of steering control. Under those circumstances, the rider could end up in a crash. The company received 13 reports of broken steering shafts worldwide, including two in the U.S. No injuries were reported.
In 2005, the CPSC announced a recall of about 700 Arctic Cat Prowler XT vehicles because of brake problems. Prior to implementing the recall, Arctic Cat received notice of one incident where the brake pad dislodged from the rear caliper, and one incident of foot brake lever flexing. There were no reports of injuries.
In 2014, the CPSC announced a recall of about over 4,400 Bad Boy Buggies because of brake problems. An incorrect parking brake adjustment and improperly bled brake lines could diminish breaking ability, posing a crash hazard.
In 2005, the CPSC announced a recall of over 2,000 Bombardier DS650 ATVs because of instability problems. The rear axle bearings may not have been sufficiently greased, which could cause a bearing to break, making the ATV unstable. In that circumstance, the driver could lose control and suffer an injury. Prior to the recall, the company received one report of the rear axle breaking leading to loss of control. No injuries were reported.
In 2009, the CPSC announced that Yamaha was offering free repair for about 120,000 Rhino 450, 660, and 700 vehicles because of stability problems. Prior to the recall, the CPSC had investigated more than 50 incidents involving the vehicles, including 46 driver and passenger deaths. More than two-thirds of the cases involved rollovers. Yamaha promised repairs including the installation of a spacer on the rear wheels and the removal of the rear anti-sway bar to reduce the chance of rollover and improve vehicle handling.
CBS News also reported that year that more than 440 wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits had been filed against Yamaha, with plaintiffs claiming that the Rhino was unstable due to its unusually narrow stance, high ground clearance, and lack of a rear differential to help in turning.
In 2004, the CPSC announced a recall of about 12,000 Polaris Sportsman 700 EFI ATVs because of both a throttle problem and a fuel line problem. The throttle cable could bind when the handlebars were turned full left or full right, resulting in an increase in engine speed and an unintended acceleration. At the same time, the fuel line could rub against the vehicle chassis, resulting in a fuel line leak that could create a fire hazard. The company received reports of 19 incidents of the throttle binding, including two minor injuries, and 31 incidents involving gasoline leaking from the fuel line.
In 2017, the CPSC announced a recall of about 560 Polaris RZR XP 4 Turbo vehicles because the return fuel line could be improperly secured, causing a fuel leak that could pose a fire hazard.
In 2017, the CPSC announced a recall of about 6,600 Kawasaki vehicles because of fuel problems. The fuel gauge retainer could collapse and leak fuel, posing a fire hazard.
In 2017, the CPSC announced a recall of about 16,800 Polaris vehicles because the tank neck could crack or the wiring harness could overheat or short circuit, posing fuel leak and fire hazards. The company received 102 reports of cracked fuel tank necks and 28 reports of burning, smoking, melted, and/or shorted wires, including four reports of fires.
Several ATVs have been recalled because of seat belt problems—either because they did not come with seat belts, or because the seat belts were not operating correctly. In the Yamaha Rhino problem noted above, plaintiffs claimed that in addition to the stability issues, the Rhino seat belts were not reliable, “unspooling” during rollovers so that belted occupants were partially ejected.
In 2017, the CPSC announced a recall of about 1,000 Bad Boy XTO and Bone Collector XTO vehicles because of lack of seat belts. The vehicles were battery-powered and had a bench seat for a driver and one passenger, as well as a two-passenger rear-facing bench seat in the back. The lack of belts posed a risk of serious injury to the driver and all passengers.
In 2017, the CPSC announced a recall of about 2,200 Honda vehicles because the front passenger seat belt buckle could fail due to a manufacturing defect, posing a risk of injury.
In April 2018, Consumer Affairs announced a recall of nearly 11,000 Polaris Ranger XP vehicles because of seat belt problems. The center seat belt bracket could separate from the frame, posing an injury hazard to riders. The company received five reports of insufficient welds in that bracket.
In 2015, the CPSC announced a recall of about 19,500 Kawasaki Terys and Teryx4 vehicles because of an issue with the floorboard. Sticks and other debris could break through the floorboard, protruding into the foot rest area, posing an injury hazard to the operator and front passenger. The company received over 600 reports of this happening, including eight reports of injuries to the riders’ lower extremities, before implementing the recall.
In April 2018, the CPSC announced a recall of about 107,000 Polaris RZR XP 1000 vehicles because of an exhaust problem. The exhaust silencer could become fatigued and crack, after which the heat shield might not manage heat. Under those conditions, nearby components could melt, presenting a fire hazard. The company received 30 reports of cracked exhaust silencers, including 3 reports of fire. No injuries were reported.
In 2017, the CPSC announced a recall of about 1,600 Polaris General vehicles because inconsistent tire pressure information could result in improperly inflated tires, posing a crash hazard.
In 2016, the CPSC announced a recall of about 42,500 Polaris Ranger 900 vehicles because of engine overheating problems. The heat shields could fall off the vehicle, posing fire and burn hazards. The company received 36 reports of the vehicles overheating and catching fire, including reports of three minor burns and one sprained wrist.
Polaris Plagued with Recalls Involving Possible Burn Injuries
In addition to all of the above examples of things that have gone wrong with ATVs, Polaris has been plagued by problems resulting in fire hazards for years. By December 2017, they had recalled about 450,000 vehicles in just about every line of products because of defects leading to problems that could cause fires.
In 2015, a 15-year-old girl was killed when her Polaris ATV overturned and caught fire. Polaris recalled tens of thousands of vehicles to fix the issue, but their products have continued to have similar problems. In December 2017, the CPSC and Polaris released a joint statement alerting consumers to fires on Polaris RZR 900 and 1000 vehicles—fires that caused property damage, serious injuries, and death.
Most of these were recalled in April 2016. Yet users of the repaired vehicles continued to report fires, including total-loss fires. In the April 2016 recall, which affected about 133,000 vehicles, Polaris stated that “the recalled ROVs can catch fire while consumers are driving, posing fire and burn hazards to drivers and passengers.” Polaris received more than 160 reports of fires prior to the recall, resulting in one death of a 15-year old passenger (as noted above), and 19 reports of injuries, including first-, second-, and third-degree burns.
As noted at the beginning of this article, Polaris paid a $27.5 million civil penalty to settle charges with the CPSC concerning its lack of timely reporting of safety issues. These were issues involving the heat shields falling off the vehicles, causing fire and burn hazards.
Types of Injuries That Occur in ATV Accidents
Examples of types of injuries that may occur when riding an ATV include:
- Cuts, lacerations, abrasions
- Sprains (wrists, ankles)
- Burn injuries
- Permanent scarring and disfigurement
- Abdominal injuries
- Brain Injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
ATV Defects and Recalls Lawsuits
Polaris and other ATV manufacturers are defending ATV defect and recall lawsuits around the country. In 2017, for example, the families of two women killed in a Polaris fire-related accident filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the company in Utah. The women were riding in Moab when their vehicle tipped over and caught fire. Authorities arrived on the scene to find the vehicle in flames, and both women were pronounced dead at the scene.
If you or a loved one operated an ATV and then experienced serious injuries such as those listed above, you may be eligible to file an ATV accident lawsuit to recover damages. Chaffin Luhana is now investigating these cases and invites you to call today at 1-888-316-2311.