Who Is Liable in a Side-By-Side Accident?

Who Is Liable in a Side-By-Side Accident?
Who Is Liable in a Side-By-Side Accident?

Side-by-sides make it easy to cruise through the hills, over trails, enjoy a faster pace than walking, and explore areas you might not reach on foot. They help people get out in nature and enjoy the gorgeous scenery. However, side-by-side accidents can be catastrophic.

If someone else’s negligence causes an ATV accident that injures you, you may be able to file a claim for compensation with their insurance company or in court. This process can be complicated, and sometimes you may not even be sure who caused the accident. If you need help determining who caused your side-by-side accident and filing a claim, contact a trusted lawyer near you for help.

In the meantime, this blog answers some common questions clients ask after a side-by-side accident. Most commonly, side-by-side accidents are caused by:

The Driver

In many cases, side-by-side accidents occur due to another driver’s error. Common reasons for driver error include:

Driver Inexperience or Recklessness

To operate a side-by-side UTV, drivers do not necessarily have to have a license but must have turned sixteen. Younger drivers may operate smaller vehicles under parental supervision. Parents may choose a side-by-side as a teen’s first off-road vehicle, encouraging the teen to develop skills and comfort behind the wheel. However, inexperience may make it more difficult for drivers to operate the vehicle safely.

In addition, some drivers may not realize that operating a side-by-side off-road requires different skills than driving a vehicle on smooth, paved roads. They may enjoy riding too fast or feel that they can handle steeper or more dangerous terrain than the vehicle can reasonably manage. As a result, drivers may take reckless chances without acknowledging the danger.

Driver Inebriation

Driving drunk on a side-by-side poses many of the same dangers as driving a car while intoxicated. A drunk driver may have tunnel vision, decreased decision-making skills, difficulty choosing safe routes for their vehicles, or take more dangerous chances than they would when sober. Often, that causes dangerous collisions.


Some drivers may not take driving side-by-side as seriously as operating a larger vehicle. They may assume that since side-by-sides often have seatbelts and rollbars, they will be safe if an accident occurs.

Unfortunately, distraction can be fatal for side-by-side drivers, whether they look down at a buzzing phone or take their attention away from the trail to chat with a passenger. Distraction can cause side-by-side drivers to miss the presence of obstacles in their way, including ditches, trees, or even other vehicles. This can kill or injure passengers or other riders if a collision occurs.

Company Liability

In some cases, the company that owns and operates a side-by-side may bear liability for an accident. Corporate side-by-side owners must keep up with their vehicles, check that they operate safely, and ensure that their drivers make safe decisions. For example, side-by-side rental or tour companies might be liable for an accident for the following reasons:

Poor Maintenance

Because side-by-sides receive heavy use on rugged terrain, they require regular maintenance. Lack of maintenance on a UTV can cause it to break down, often at the worst possible moment. If a lack of maintenance causes an accident, the company renting out or operating it may be liable.

Poor maintenance can also cause the vehicle to break down in a run, leaving riders stranded. If your side-by-side breaks down due to poor maintenance and injures you, the vehicle’s owner may be liable for your accident.

Driver Recklessness

If a company’s driver negligently or recklessly causes a UTV accident, the company may share liability. This is also true if their driver has a history of recklessness or driving while intoxicated and the company continues to employ the driver.

Property Owners

Are property owners liable if a side-by-side accident occurs on their property? In some cases, yes. Property owners who allow UTV operation or rent out side-by-sides may be liable for accidents if they fail to maintain their property or warn drivers about hazards. For example, if a property owner knows about a hidden dangers on their property but does not do anything about it, they might be liable if a side-by-side accident occurs.

An Employer

Many people use side-by-sides at work to haul materials or reach otherwise inaccessible job sites. If you sustain injuries in a side-by-side accident while working, you may be able to pursue compensation through a personal injury claim or a workers’ compensation claim.

If you choose to pursue a workers' compensation claim, you may seek payment for all of your medical care and approximately 66 percent of your income while you recover from your injuries. Sometimes, you may be able to file a workers' compensation claim even if your negligence contributed to the accident. Speak to an experienced UTV accident lawyer to determine whether filing a workers' compensation claim makes sense in your case.

Does Insurance Cover Side-By-Side Accidents?

While some states, like Wisconsin, require side-by-side owners to register their vehicles, many states, including Wisconsin and Minnesota, do not require UTV riders to carry insurance. In many cases, homeowner’s insurance covers injuries caused by a side-by-side driver’s negligent actions. However, accident victims may need to pursue compensation directly from the driver who injured them in other cases.

You may wonder whether friends and family have to pay if they are involved in the accident. Each case is unique. Discussing your case with an experienced UTV accident lawyer will help you determine whether insurance will cover your losses.

Why Does It Matter Who Bears Liability for a Side-By-Side Accident?

Side-by-side accidents can result in substantial injuries: brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, broken bones, and severe lacerations. Dangerous terrain may delay medical help, causing injuries to worsen in the interim.

After a side-by-side accident, you may face financial difficulties. When you identify the party who caused your side-by-side accident, you can pursue compensation for your losses, which may help you get the financial support you need. You may seek compensation for:

Your Medical Costs

A side-by-side accident can lead to high medical costs. Sometimes, you may need an expensive wilderness emergency rescue. You may need ambulance transport to the hospital, emergency treatment for your injuries, or in-home or long-term care. You can pursue compensation for these medical bills as part of a side-by-side accident claim.

Your Lost Income

Losing your income because of a side-by-side accident can be devastating. If you cannot work, have reduced hours, or miss time at work because of follow-up appointments or ongoing treatment, you may not be able to pay your bills. You can seek compensation for your lost income in your ATV accident claim.

Additionally, some side-by-side accidents cause permanent injuries. If your injuries permanently prevent you from working in your previous field, you may pursue compensation for your lost earning potential as well. Speak to a knowledgeable side-by-side accident lawyer to determine whether this is available in your case.

Your Pain and Suffering

You may have suffered significantly following your side-by-side accident: losing your independence, for example, can change your relationships and keep you from participating in your favorite activities. A side-by-side accident claim can help you recover financial compensation for your pain and suffering. While money will not make the challenges you have faced disappear or alleviate your symptoms, you can use the funds from the claim to help rebuild your life.

What Should I Do After a Side-By-Side Accident?

Nicolet Law managing attorney Russell Nicolet
ATV Attorney, Russell Nicolet

After an accident, making these wise choices can protect you and your right to compensation:

  1. Evaluate yourself and any passengers for injuries. Never ignore potential injuries. Call 911 if you need medical attention to summon help to the accident scene.
  1. Report the accident. In some cases, the police may respond to a side-by-side accident, especially if it results in severe injuries. Call 911 to report the accident. You may need to remain at the accident scene until the police arrive. If dispatch lets you know that the police cannot respond to the accident scene, you may need to complete an accident report.
  2. Collect evidence, if possible. If you can safely do so, collect any evidence that shows what happened in the accident. Use your phone camera to video or photograph the accident and any hazards on the trail. Doing so may help your lawyer build your case.
  3. Contact an ATV lawyer. If another person negligently injures you in a side-by-side accident, you may need a lawyer to represent and support you. Contact an ATV lawyer near you to learn more about your options after a side-by-side accident, including how to pursue compensation for your injuries.