$3 Million - $3 Mil. Awarded in All-Terrain Vehicle Accident Case.

$3 Million Verdict for Family of Victim who died after use of Defectively designed ATV

This product liability action arose from the death of the 31-year old male decedent from a pulmonary embolism approximately three months after sustaining a severe leg fracture while operating an all terrain vehicle (ATV). The defendants in the case included the manufacturer, distributor and retailer of the ATV. The plaintiff estate alleged that the ATV at issue, was defective in design of its handlebar grip which slipped off while the decedent was operating the vehicle, thereby, causing the accident which led to his death. The defendant manufacturer assumed the defense of the other two defendants. The defendants argued that the ATV was not defective and that the accident was not caused by slippage of the handlebar grip. The defendants also asserted an "assumption of risk" defense.

The evidence revealed that the decedent had purchased a 90cc four-wheel ATV model DL-601 manufactured by defendant DinLi Metal Industrial Company, Ltd in Taiwan, and sold locally by defendant Philadelphia Cycle Center. The decedent was a union glazer assigned to install large windows in a Conshohocken storefront. On September 27, 2001, when the ATV was six weeks old, the decedent brought it to work in the back of his pick-up truck. During his lunch break, one of the decedent's co-workers drove the AVT and noted that the right handlebar grip slipped off while he was riding on two wheels in the parking lot.

The rubber handlebar grip was designed to be secured to the handlebar by an interference fit, an attachment method in which the diameter of the inside of the grip is slightly smaller than the diameter of the metal handlebar. The rubber grip is forced onto the handlebar and expanded through pressure to fit snugly. No adhesive, glue or mechanical securing devise is used to attach the rubber grip to the handlebar.

The plaintiff's co-worker testified that he almost had an accident when the grip slip off the end of the handlebar, while he was riding on only the two right wheels of the ATV at a speed of 15 to 20 mph. Testimony established that the decedent replaced the handlebar grip. Later that afternoon, a second co-worker rode the ATV without incident.

Next, the decedent took the ATV for a ride in a filed located behind the glass shop in Oreland that he was working from. According to eyewitnesses, the decedent lost control of the vehicle for no apparent reason while traveling up a small hill. The decedent lunged forward, his rear came up from the seat and he appeared to be a "split," according to witnesses. The plaintiff maintained that the description of the accident was consistent with the handlebar grip sliding off while the decedent was riding the vehicle.

The plaintiff produced two liability experts who testified that the interference fit method of securing the handlebar grip to the handlebar was defective and dangerous. The plaintiff's engineer contended that this method could foreseeably allow moisture to collect under the grip which could cause it to slip off during normal operation. Plaintiff's engineer performed a demonstration with the subject handlebar and grip, in which he introduced water into the handgrip and then attached it to the handlebar. The demonstration was intended to depict how the grip could slip off with only 20 to 30 pounds of pressure, when moisture has broken the seal between the grip and the handlebar.

The plaintiff also introduced an animation of the ATV superimposed on actual video footage of the accident scene. The animation depicted the grip coming off and causing the decedent to lose control and fall from the ATV. The plaintiff's ATV expert opined that the manner in which the decedent fell from the vehicle was completely consistent with the handlebar grip sliding off. The plaintiff's expert admitted on cross-examination that the video was "by no means perfect" and may not have shown the accident in the exact place where it occurred.

The plaintiff contended that an adhesive or mechanical clamping device, such as a sheet metal screw, would ensure that the grips would not rotate or slide off the handlebar. The plaintiff's expert testified that adhesive is commonly employed by other ATV manufacturers and is considered a safe design, as well.

The decedent sustained two comminuted fractures of the left leg as a result of the accident. He underwent internal fixation and open reduction of the fractures. He was released from the hospital on October 4, 2001, with an external fixation device. However, on December 23, 2001, the decedent suffered a pulmonary embolism and was pronounced "dead on arrival" at the hospital.

The plaintiff's expert opined that the fatal embolism was causally related to the leg injuries sustained in the ATV accident, and the defense did not dispute that fact.

The decedent was married with a 7 year old girl from the marriage, and an 11 year old boy, from his wife's previous marriage. The plaintiff's economist estimated the plaintiff's total economic damages as $2.3 million.

The defense argued that its method of securing the grip to the handlebar was entirely safe and that it was impossible for moisture to come between the grip and the handlebar, as alleged. The defendant contented that the plaintiff's expert could only introduce the moisture by removing the hand grip, covering the mating parts with water, and re-installing the hand grip.

The defendant's experts maintained that there was no need to use glue, or a screw, in connecting the handle grip to the handlebar, as the interference connection was secure. The defendant's expert testified that an examination of the ATV revealed scratches on the handlebar and grip, as if the grip had been pried or forced off.

The defendant's ATV expert opined that the description of the accident was not consistent with the handlebar grip coming off and that the accident could have been caused by driver error. The defendant also maintained that the decedent assumed the risk of injury as he was aware that the grip had come off on previous occasions and had come off earlier that day, but he chose to ride the ATV anyway.

The jury found for the plaintiff and awarded $3 million in damages. The award included $2 million for the survival action, and $1 million for the wrongful death claim.