This blog has previously discussed the allure of all terrain vehicles (ATVs). They are rugged and exciting, and can take you through back country areas quickly and easily. However, they are also very dangerous. Don’t be fooled into thinking that because they have three, four, even six wheels, you will be protected from accidents: they have mortality rates comparable to motorcycles. Often the reason for the death and injury rate is the driver’s failure to wear a helmet. A person not wearing a helmet is three times more likely to suffer an injury from an ATV accident. Recently, an ATV accident claimed the life of yet another person in West Virginia.
Dakota Austin “Kody” Mullis, a 17-year old from North Carolina, was spending the weekend riding ATVs with family and friends in the Hatfield-McCoy trail system known as the “stair step.” At the end of the day, Mullis and his girlfriend decided to take one last ride before turning in. Since it was supposed to last 20 minutes, Mullis did not bring a helmet. “He never rode without his helmet, but this time he did,” his aunt noted. During a race up the trail in the twilight, Mullis and his girlfriend ended up losing control of their vehicles and hitting a guard rail. Both were thrown into an embankment, with Mullis being thrown nearly 50 feet into the air and finally hitting a tree. Although Mullis’s girlfriend alerted first responders, he was declared dead at Bluefield Regional Medical Center.
Doctors believe that even if Mullis had worn a helmet, the impact when he hit the tree and the ground might have been too great to survive. Still, no one will ever know. Now a North Carolina community is left to mourn a young man who would have been a senior in high school and was planning to join the military after graduation.
We at the Wolfe Law Firm express our deepest condolences to Mullis’s friends and family. There are so many “What ifs” in this situation. Mullis might have lost control of the vehicle through human error, though news articles suggest that he has used ATVs multiple times. It is also possible that this is more than just a tragic accident: there might have been something wrong with the vehicle itself. There is no information on how old Mullis’s ATV was or where he purchased it. If there is anything to suggest that the vehicle itself had a defect, his family might consider filing a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer. In a product liability lawsuit, you would argue that the manufacturer was strictly liable because the ATV had a manufacturing defect (that particular ATV was unreasonably dangerous when it came off the assembly line), a design defect (all of that model ATV had control problems), or a warning label that failed to point out all foreseeable dangers. If the product is found to have a defect, the manufacturer will be liable even if it was not negligent — that is, even if it acted with reasonable care. You can still receive a money award in a product liability case even if you or your loved one was partially responsible for the accident — just as long as your fault does not rise to 50% or more in West Virginia.
If you or your loved one has an ATV accident, find a skilled West Virginia product liability attorney to investigate the cause. While too many of these accidents result from lack of helmet and human error, they might also be the result of a dangerous flaw in your vehicle.