The Hazards of Having Fun

The popularity of off-road vehicles remains strong in spite of the high risks of these recreational pursuits. ATVs (All Terrain Vehicles), mopeds and snowmobiles are commonly found in our rural and outer-rim communities around southwestern Ohio.

Some hobbyists enjoy these vehicles on marked courses, while others prefer to operate them on uncharted landscapes. Although many off-road vehicle mishaps involve minors, adults are often injured as well. Recreational vehicles are inherently dangerous, in the stern gaze of the law. Statutes and case law demand that the utmost care be taken.

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) states that we can expect about 150,000 injuries each year as a result of ATVs alone. As to deaths, the number can approach 1,000 a year. This is tremendous loss of limbs and lives. Despite the developments in safety laws, this has amounted to a public health crisis in some communities.

We have seen first-hand in our practice the depth of sorrow caused to parents and family members of those struck by negligent off-road operators. Many times the bad behavior, leading to the serious injuries, is the result of reckless or even wanton misconduct.

Do Regular Traffic Laws Even Apply?

Ohio, like most states, holds that riders of off-road vehicles assume a quantum of risk. Many of the regular traffic rules of the road, which we observe with cars, do not apply as to these sporting vehicles.
A fundamental tenant of relevant Ohio law is that the concepts of negligence are applicable. If one is injured by another’s driving conduct, then the claimant must legally establish that there was a failure of ordinary care. Much of this involves common sense argument in court. These comparative negligence claims are particularly suitable for civil jury determination.

Accidents Taking Place on Private Property

Most accidents occurring with these recreational machines take place on private property. Because of this, responding officers might not issue a citation. Awareness of this should be sobering to drivers of ATVs, mopeds and snowmobiles.

The usual protections afforded by specific traffic statutes are sometimes not applicable. The Wild West nature of recreational vehicle parks should put everyone on notice that negligence victims may not always find their injuries to be compensable. Even more so than in regular road accidents, the testimony of witnesses is important. If none is available, then a traffic reconstruction expert’s seasoned opinions can prove pivotal to prevail in litigation.

Maxillofacial and Orthopedic Injuries Are Common

Many of the injuries from mishaps involving ATVs, mopeds and snowmobiles involve maxillofacial injuries. A study by the National Institutes of Health has shown that a third of injuries with off-road vehicles involve these facial fractures. Not surprisingly, over 80% of these injuries involve males, and usually because of rollovers. Fast-moving and fun, recreational vehicles are often used away from population centers, or at dusk or darkness. This encourages recklessness. Off-road vehicles are effectively motorcycles, but with fewer social constraints to reign in unruly operators.

Along with maxillofacial injuries, neurological problems and pain can be part of the negligence victim’s suffering. Orthopedic impairment almost always is a reality. And the severity of these skeletal injuries can be staggering and very slow healing.

When Children Are the Victims

Various national groups have come together to curb the alarming statistics regarding injuries and deaths of children from off-road vehicles. The American Academy of Pediatrics, The National Association of Orthopedic Nurses (NAON), and the Consumer Federation of America are the important players working to make a contribution.

Children simply do not have the maturity, even the basic cognitive skills, to restrain their fun-loving impulses with these sporting instruments. Their poor judgment and risk-taking behaviors often result in someone else being left with a wrecked body. Additionally, they often lack the physical size, coordination and strength to effectively navigate these machines, which weigh up to 600 lbs.

It is sad that, according to the Children’s Safety Network, children under age 16 make up over one-third of all ATV-related accidents. And as to ATV operators, those under 16 years are 4 times more likely to get injured as those older.

Children often are less likely to be wearing a helmet at the time of the catastrophe. This is true despite what they are told through social marketing campaigns through their schools. Yet helmets are believed to reduce fatal injuries by 40% to 60%.

Ruined Lives Call for Justice

Being extremely cautious at ATV and snowmobile recreational venues sometimes offers thin assurance for protecting oneself from negligent driving by others.

Establishing liability can be successful with clear-eyed and articulate witnesses. They must be able to state, with credibility, how the defendant’s driving was the cause of the injuries sustained by the victim. If it is shown that there was careless operation, then liability can be found. This paves the way for reasonable money damages through award or verdict.