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ATV Accidents - Who is Liable?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the term vehicle as “a means of carrying or transporting something //planes, trains and other vehicles.” It lists motor vehicles as an example. The dictionary defines motor vehicle as “an automotive vehicle not operated on rails” and “especially: one with rubber tires for use on highways.”  

When people think about motor vehicles, the first vehicles that likely come to mind are cars. If pressed to think of other motor vehicles, motorcycles, trucks and buses might come to mind. However, while these motor vehicles do account for the majority of motor vehicle accidents, they do not account for all of them. There are a number of other vehicles both on the road, and operated off the road. These include:

  • all terrain vehicles (ATV’s) - this includes four wheeler and quads
  • utility terrain vehicles (UTV’s)
  • dirt bikes
  • recreational vehicles
  • jet skis 
  • boats

When referring to an accident, especially an accident leading to serious personal injuries, most people will likely think of a car accident or a motorcycle accident or a truck accident. However, accidents leading to both minor and major injuries occur using all of the above vehicles. ATV’s and UTV’s, in particular, account for a large number of accidents every year. 

North Carolina ATV Accidents

ATV’s are widely used throughout the country for pleasure and work. Unfortunately, thousands of people are injured in ATV related incidents every year. For the period 2015-2017, North Carolina ranked 7th among all 50 states for deaths caused by ATV’s. 3% of all ATV deaths reported nationwide occurred in North Carolina. Some more recent ATV accidents and deaths include:

  • the death of a 5-year old boy in March of 2020 after the RTV (rough terrain vehicle) he was driving flipped over and pinned him underneath it 
  • two December 2021 accidents in which two first responders, a Sheriff’s Deputy and a Fire Chief, lost their sons, ages 11 and 15, in separate accidents a day apart involving an ATV and a dirt bike
  • the death of a 6th grade boy after his four-wheeler crashed in October 2021
  • the death of a 26 year-old, and severe injuries to her 26 year-old sister, a mother of two, in an ATV accident when the driver lost control, causing the ATV to fall off a railroad bridge and onto the road below. 

Unlike other motor vehicles, most ATV’s lack the protection and safety features that larger motor vehicles have. They are not enclosed, there are no seatbelts, and there is an increased risk of rollovers. In addition, they can weigh up to 800 pounds and reach speeds of 60 mph. Hitting a bump at 50 mph while driving an ATV is significantly different then hitting a bump while driving a car at 50 mph. Injuries caused by an ATV accident can be catastrophic. When ATV accidents happen, who is liable? 

Who is Liable Under North Carolina Law?

ATV accident claims, like any personal injury accident case, require proof of negligence or carelessness. Determining who is at fault for an ATV accident, and whether there is any insurance, can be difficult. Parties at fault might include the driver of the ATV, the owner of the ATV, the owner of the property on which the injury/accident occurred, and the manufacturer of the ATV. 

In order to operate a car, RV, bus, motorcycle, or truck in North Carolina, a driver (or his/her employer) must have insurance. North Carolina law requires that all drivers have a minimum of:

  • $30,000 per person/$60,000 per accident of bodily injury liability coverage
  • $30,000 per person/$60,000 per accident of uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage
  • $25,000 of uninsured/underinsured motorist property damages
  • $25,0000 of property damage liability coverage

But what about ATV’s and dirt bikes? These vehicles are used for a variety of purposes, many of them purely as recreational. Oftentimes these vehicles are not used on the road, they are used on private property. Most ATV’s cannot legally be driven on the road, unless they are simply crossing the road. 

If the driver does not have insurance, then it is possible that the ATV or the driver’s homeowners insurance could cover the accident. However, homeowners insurance typically only applies if the accident or injuries occurred while on the homeowner’s land.  

In addition to a typical personal injury claim for damages, it is possible that a premises liability could exist if the injury or accident occurred as a result of the failure of the homeowner to maintain the property. If there is a defect in the ATV, there could be a product liability claim against the manufacturer. 

In addition, unlike cars, RV’s, buses and trucks, minors are permitted to operate these vehicles which leads to other considerations. There are laws of course, but unlike those to operate a traditional motor vehicle, children over the age of 8 are permitted to drive ATV’s and UTV’s under the following circumstances:

  • if the child is between the ages of 8 and 12, they can operate an ATV with an engine smaller than 70 cc;
  • if the child is between the ages of 13 and 15, they can legally operate an ATV with an engine larger than 90 cc; and
  • children under the age of 16 must be supervised at all times

As with any North Carolina personal injury claim, contributory negligence is a major issue in an ATV accident case. If the person who was injured is found even partially at fault for causing the accident or the injuries, then he/she may be precluded from recovering any damages. When a minor is involved, then contributory negligence could become an even greater issue depending on the age of the minor since children between the ages of 7 and 14 are presumed to be incapable of negligence. 

Why Do I Need a Charlotte Law Firm?

ATV accidents happen more often than people realize. The Charlotte, NC based lawyers at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC are experienced accident attorneys who can help you understand your rights and whether or not you have damages and should proceed with a claim. Please contact our office at 704-714-1450. There is no fee for an initial consultation. 

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