All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and Utility Task Vehicles (UTVs) continue to grow in popularity in Wisconsin and the midwest. Many use these vehicles for fun to ride on the state’s more than 1800 miles of trails or go off-roading on private property. Others optimize the utility of ATVs and UTVs for yard work, farm work, hunting, and other activities and projects
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) estimates approximately 400,000 ATVs and UTVs are registered in the state, about twice the number of snowmobiles.
The popularity of ATVs and UTVs and the abundance of trails explain why Wisconsin has a higher ATV and UTV accident rate than many other states. Below, we take a closer look at how ATV and UTV accidents occur in Wisconsin, what to do if you get injured in an ATV or UTV accident, and how an ATV accident lawyer can help you recover damages if you have a viable claim.
Causes of ATV and UTV Accidents in Wisconsin
The Wisconsin DNR reports between about 20 and 50 ATV and UTV fatalities yearly. The arrival of COVID-19 and quarantines propelled ATV and UTV sales because riding for leisure is an activity that doesn’t require being around others. However, this made 2021 one of the deadliest years in Wisconsin for ATV and UTV accidents.
Since the pandemic, the fatality rate has fallen to pre-COVID levels. Even though fatalities have been trending downward, hundreds of Wisconsinites suffer injuries in ATV and UTV accidents annually.
Here are some of the common causes of ATV and UTV accidents in Wisconsin:
Operating an ATV/UTV Under the Influence of Alcohol
More than one-third of ATV/UTV fatalities in Wisconsin involve alcohol. Depending on which yearly data you examine, alcohol plays a role in up to 73 percent of accidents, making it a major cause of ATV and UTV accidents in Wisconsin. People who use ATVs and UTVs need the same skills they need to drive a car safely.
Alcohol impairs the ability of riders to judge time and space, control their vehicle, and process all the information necessary to avoid a collision. Negligent ATV and UTV drivers who ride under the influence can cause deadly accidents on Wisconsin’s trails and open themselves up to liability for damages.
Wisconsin has laws about age requirements to ride ATVs and UTVs and related safety training. Under Wisconsin law, ATV riders must be at least 12 years old, and UTV operators must be at least 16 years old. Operators of both machines born after January 1, 1988, must have a valid ATV safety certificate issued by the State of Wisconsin or another state. However, the law has multiple exceptions. For example, the age requirements for either machine do not matter when an adult supervises riders, and those under age 16 can operate a UTV for agricultural purposes.
Additionally, underage riders do not need a safety certificate when they are on private property. These are some of the loopholes that create dangerous conditions for inexperienced riders. Inexperienced riders who lack adequate safety training are more likely to cause an ATV or UTV accident. In fact, only one or two fatalities per year in Wisconsin involve ATV or UTV operators with their safety certificates.
Careless ATV Operators and Motor Vehicle Drivers
When an ATV or UTV crashes with another, it’s often because of unsanctioned races and chases, but it might also occur when operators aren’t following the rules. Operators cannot cross Wisconsin’s public roads unless they are over 16. Those who are younger must be at least 12 with a safety certificate.
ATV and UTV operators who cross Wisconsin roads potentially put them in the path of a negligent motor vehicle operator. Drunk drivers, distracted drivers, drowsy drivers, and aggressive drivers sometimes strike ATV and UTV operators, causing severe and fatal injuries.
Property owners have a legal duty to maintain their land, so it is safe for visitors. This requirement includes warning visitors about hazards that could lead to injuries and fixing known hazards when possible. Landowners that fail to uphold their duty put ATV/UTV operators at risk by allowing them to ride on their unsafe property.
Examples of dangerous scenarios that might lead to an ATV or UTV accident include:
- Holes or pits
- Parked vehicles
- Deep ravines and other land drop-offs
- No supervision for young or inexperienced operators
The safest ATV and UTV operators can still suffer severe or fatal injuries if their vehicle has a design or manufacturing defect. Consumer Affairs reports manufacturer recalls of many products, including ATVs and UTVs.
Recent recalls include:
- Textron, the parent company of Arctic Cat, recalled about 3,000 ATVs after reports of a fuse failing in the electrical system that could cause a crash because of the sudden loss of engine power.
- Segway Powersports recalled approximately 1,100 UTVs because the rear panel between the cockpit seats and cargo bed can overheat, melt the plastic, and potentially cause a fire.
- Yamaha recalled about 3,500 Kodiak 700 ATVs because the vehicles do not have a “Maximum Loading Limit” label. Operators might overload the vehicle, increasing the chance of accidents and injuries. Yamaha also recalled more than 4,100 Off-Road Side-by-Side vehicles with damaged fuel tanks that could potentially cause a leak, leading to dangerous explosions and fires.
- Intimidator recalled about 16,000 Intimidator and Mahindra UTVs because of a faulty throttle cable. The cable can freeze during storage and stick, rendering the brakes useless when operators need to stop. Additionally, one of the recalled models has faulty software that does not prevent operators from exceeding 15 mph when they are not using the seatbelt.
- Polaris recalled about 1,200 RZR off-road ATVs due to incorrectly routed battery cables that can potentially result in an electrical short, increasing the chances of a fire.
- EGL Motor recalled about 500 EGL and ACE youth ATVs because they did not meet mandatory federal safety standards. The vehicles exceeded maximum speeds for children aged 10 and older, and one of the vehicle models has faulty parking brakes. Both vehicles could lead to dangerous cuts if the operator’s body or head hits the handlebars at high speeds.
When to Take Legal Action After an ATV or UTV Accident
ATV and UTV operators and their passengers have a legal right to seek compensation for damages if they suffer injuries in an accident caused by another party’s negligence, as long as they bring a lawsuit within the three-year statute of limitations period. If you are uncertain about contacting a lawyer, it’s always wise to take advantage of a free consultation with an experienced lawyer to learn about your options.
ATV and UTV accident victims typically need a lawyer if:
- Your child suffered injuries in an ATV or UTV accident because adults weren’t adequately supervising them on private property or when teaching safety courses.
- You or your child suffered injuries in an ATV or UTV accident because an intoxicated driver crashed with you or your loved one as a passenger in the ATV or UTV.
- Another ATV or UTV operator or driver in a passenger vehicle caused a crash by negligently operating their vehicle on a trail or public road.
- You or your child suffered injuries in an ATV or UTV accident because the vehicle was defective.
Bringing a Claim After a Wisconsin ATV/UTV Accident
Once you consult with an experienced ATV/UTV accident lawyer and find out you have a viable claim, your lawyer will investigate your accident. Initially, your legal team intends to uncover all the facts surrounding your claim so they know who is liable for your losses and injuries from the accident.
The insurance company might make an early settlement offer to avoid a large payout later if they learn of your injuries from their policyholder. Your lawyer can advise you on the right course of action. Typically, the first offer is low and does not offer full or fair compensation for injuries because most people do not know the full scope of their injuries immediately after the accident.
Once your treating physician has concluded you will not recover further, your lawyer can more accurately place a value on your claim.
Armed with evidence and a reasonable value on a claim, the demand letter is the next part of bringing a claim against another party in Wisconsin. The insurance company might accept the demands and pay, but this is unlikely. Typically they deny the claim or make a settlement offer, which is less than the amount of the claim in the demand letter. At this point, your lawyer might advise you to file a lawsuit and continue negotiating with the insurance company until the case resolves or you decide to go to trial with your claim.
Proving Negligence in a Wisconsin ATV/UTV Accident Claim
Most ATV and UTV crashes stem from negligence, whether a negligent driver, landowner, or manufacturer. If you bring a lawsuit against another party, your lawyer must prove negligence to win your claim. Even if your case doesn’t go to trial, you need to be able to prove negligence to the insurance company for leverage during negotiations.
Negligence includes four elements:
- Duty of care. The defendant must have a duty of care towards you. For example, other drivers have a legal duty to drive with care and follow the rules of the road, landowners have a duty to keep their property safe for visitors, and adults supervising young operators have a duty to ensure they ride safely.
- Breach of duty. The defendant must have breached their duty towards you. For example, a drunk driver who hits an ATV or UTV breached their duty when they got behind the wheel after consuming alcohol. A landowner who didn’t warn ATV riders of a hazard breached their duty, and adults who failed to supervise a child operator also breached their duty.
- Harm. You or your child must have suffered harm from the breach of duty. If you suffered injuries that forced an emergency room visit, you have satisfied this requirement.
- Causation. This element is the most contested of negligence and can be difficult to prove in some situations. Your lawyer must prove that the defendant’s breach of duty caused your injuries. Evidence like police reports, photos, videos, and eyewitnesses often help prove the causation element of negligence.
Types of Damages in Wisconsin ATV/UTV Accident Claims
Those who suffered injuries in a Wisconsin ATV or UTV accident have the legal right to seek compensation for damages related to their accident and injuries. Depending on the situation, a claimant can seek economic and non-economic damages, but each case is different.
Examples of damages commonly included in ATV and UTV claims include compensation for:
- Medical expenses included ambulance service, emergency room treatment, hospitalization, lab tests, diagnostic imaging, surgery, doctor visits, assistive devices, prescription medication, and transportation costs to and from the treating facility.
- Estimated future medical expenses when an ATV or UTV accident causes a permanent injury requiring ongoing treatment.
- Lost wages and benefits from time away from work due to injuries and recovery.
- Estimated lost future earning capacity when an ATV or UTV accident leads to permanent disability that prevents someone from working.
- Property damage that occurred during the accident
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Reduced quality of life
If you have lost a loved one in a Wisconsin ATV or UTV accident, you could also be eligible to recover damages in a wrongful death lawsuit. Eligible survivors sometimes receive compensation for burial costs, funeral expenses, and financial and emotional damage due to losing a loved one.
An experienced personal injury attorney can review the facts of your Wisconsin ATV/UTV accident and claim and determine which damages apply to your case. Contact a reputable personal injury attorney for your free consultation and let a legal professional help you recover the compensation you deserve for your ATV/UTV accident injuries.