Birch v. Polaris Industries, Inc. – Product Liability for Crash Injuries

In many motor vehicle accident cases, it’s worthwhile to explore whether product liability may be at issue. That means our legal team would look into the vehicles involved and the various parts – including tires, steering system, brake systems, seat belts and more – to determine whether they functioned as they were supposed to. atvtrail

When vehicle parts do not function as intended, this could cause a crash or at least contribute to the severity of injuries. In turn, this may be grounds for legal action.

However, problems can arise in these cases if there is evidence the product was significantly altered from its original intended design. Usually as this relates to car accidents, that could mean a part was defectively installed by a mechanic. This could be grounds to take action against that company, rather than the manufacturer of the vehicle. But of course, every case will be different. 

In the recent case of Birch v. Polaris Industries, Inc., recently before the Tenth District Court of Appeal, the vehicle in question was an off-road vehicle that was open air but covered by a roof.

Decedent purchased the vehicle from a manufacturer’s dealership near his home in Utah. Roughly a month after purchase, decedent was riding in the vehicle with his adult son when they hit a bump. The vehicle lurched forward and decedent’s hand was pinned underneath the vehicle. He was injured, though not severely.

Decedent took the vehicle into the same manufacturer dealership (which also had a repair shop) for repair. Mechanic informed him that because the frame was completely destroyed, he would have to pay $6,000 to replace it. Decedent was not happy with this. He asked the mechanic, who was certified by the manufacturer to repair its vehicles, if he would be willing to repair it off the books. Because decedent was a friend-of-a-friend to mechanic, he agreed.

Mechanic ordered a new frame online from an unknown third party on Craigslist. However, this frame, although unused, was a 2008 model. Decedent’s vehicle was a 2011 model. The new roof was installed.

About a year later, decedent was riding with a friend when the vehicle again hit a bump. It crashed. The roof frame again was destroyed. But this time, decedent struck his head and died a short time later.

Decedent’s son filed a wrongful death lawsuit as representative of his estate. Plaintiff alleged the vehicle was defective. Defendant countered the product had been significantly altered from its original design, and the 2008 model roof didn’t even fit the 2011 model correctly.

Time passed, and deadlines for discovery and complaint amendments expired. Even so, plaintiff amended the complaint to add additional legal theories (namely, that defendant failed to warn that significant change between the 2008 model and the 2011 model were due to the fact that the 208 model roof was unsafe) and to request additional discovery. Judge denied the motion, finding it was too late to make these requests.

Based on the original complaint, judge ruled summary judgment in favor of defense was appropriate. Plaintiff appealed to the Tenth Circuit. Justices affirmed.

While there was evidence presented that the company had failed to warn of possible danger with the older models, this was not alleged in the original complaint, and that was those were the only allegations that could be considered.

This case underscores the importance of ensuring you have an experienced and well-resourced legal team to keep pace with all the various deadlines and requirements in any civil tort case.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Birch v. Polaris Industries, Inc., Dec. 23, 2015, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

More Blog Entries:

Way v. Green – Proving Duty of Care Breach in Crash Cases, Dec. 30, 2015, Asheville Accident Lawyer Blog

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