What Happens After an ATV Accident?
Many people are unaware that Pennsylvania has a specific set of laws that applies to All Terrain Vehicle (also called ATVs) accidents. This law can be found at 75 Pa.C.S.A. §7701 and following, and is known as the “Snowmobile and All-Terrain Vehicle Law.”
While many parts of this law apply to snowmobiles and ATVs, we will focus on ATVs, as the vast majority of injury and death claims that we see result from the use of these vehicles.
ATV Laws in Pennsylvania
The legal definition of an ATV is a motorized off-highway vehicle with at least 3 wheels, which also meets other certain size and use requirements. In practice, this term also includes “Utility Terrain Vehicles” (known as “UTVs”), and what are commonly referred to as “Side by Sides.” These latter types of vehicles, as you would expect from the name, include seats that are “side by side,” and oftentimes have more than one row of seats. These vehicles can seat anywhere from between 2 to 6 people, whereas a traditional ATV would seat a maximum of 2 people. For this article, we will use the term “ATV,” with the understanding that the term includes more than one type of vehicle.
Because ATVs are not motor vehicles as defined in the Motor Vehicle Law, victims of ATV accidents often are not aware of how the ATV law affects their injury or death claim, and they usually are not familiar with how their injury claim will be handled.
Most ATVs must be registered with the Commonwealth, and ATVs which are registered must also have liability insurance.
There are many situations where the owner or driver (or operator) of an ATV is legally responsible (liable) for the injuries or death of passengers or other people. We have made claims to insurance companies or sued people for negligent acts that include (but are not limited to):
- operating an ATV while intoxicated;
- operating an ATV at an excessive speed (or in an otherwise careless manner);
- operating an ATV while they were under the age of 16.
Besides the owner and driver of the ATV, there may be other persons or companies that are legally responsible for the accident. For example, a bar may overserve the ATV driver with alcohol, causing him or her to become intoxicated.
With respect to persons making claims for death or injury, some of the more relevant portions of the law include the facts that:
- in general, it is illegal to operate an ATV on any street or highway
- an ATV cannot be operated on private property without the consent of the landowner
- a person under the age of 16 cannot operate an ATV unless he/she is on land owned by his/her parent or guardian, is under the direct supervision of a safety instructor on a safety course, or has obtained a safety certificate from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources of Pennsylvania, or has obtained a safety certificate from another state.
- an owner of an ATV cannot allow a person under the age of 16 to operate the ATV, unless the child falls within one of the exceptions above
- a person cannot operate an ATV at an excessive speed, in a careless manner, or while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance
- an owner of an ATV cannot allow his ATV to be operated by a person who is incapable of safely doing so due to age, disability, or use of alcohol or drugs
- when an ATV accident causes death, injury or damage to property, the driver of the ATV must stop and provide information to the involved persons or law enforcement—and in certain circumstances must also report it to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
How Is Liability Determined in an ATV Accident?
Importantly, the ATV law is different from many other areas of the law because it makes owners of ATVs legally responsible for any injury or death caused by the negligent use of the ATV, even if that owner was not him or herself guilty of any wrongdoing. This law essentially imposes strict liability on the ATV owner, as long as he or she allowed the negligent driver to operate the ATV. This part of the law can be extremely important to victims because it automatically makes the owners of ATVs responsible for the negligent actions of the driver.
As is the case with motorcycles, we frequently see very serious injuries with ATV incidents. Some of the reasons for these serious injuries are the fact that many passengers do not use seat-belts or restraints, they rarely wear a helmet, and we frequently see roll-over accidents, many times with ejection of the passengers.
How Do I Recover Damages After a Pennsylvania ATV Accident?
As noted above, the law requires that most ATVs have liability insurance. For bodily injuries and wrongful death resulting from an ATV accident, there can be several sources of recovery. First, we will look to the liability insurance covering the ATV itself. This liability insurance may be an insurance policy issued only for the ATV, or it may be an insurance policy that also contains automobiles as well.
There are certain situations where the driver of the ATV has personal liability insurance coverage, in addition to the coverage on the ATV. Depending on the use of the ATV and the location of the accident, we may also be able to obtain liability insurance from a homeowner’s insurance policy of the owner or driver.
Finally, under certain circumstances, you may be able to obtain insurance benefits from the Underinsured Motorist Coverage of your own motor vehicle policy. Of course, depending on the financial condition of the driver or owner, you could seek recovery directly from their assets as well.
There are also many potential sources of medical benefits coverage. These sources could include the insurance policies identified above, as well as your own personal health insurance. Identifying the available liability insurance policies, the amounts of those policies, and the priorities of coverage can be complicated and requires a thorough knowledge of not only the ATV law, but also insurance coverage law.
Contact a Pittsburgh ATV Accident Attorney Today
When a serious injury or death occurs as the result of an ATV accident, it is important to hire an attorney as soon as possible. In certain cases, evidence such as videotape surveillance may be lost, or witnesses may move or become unavailable. It is also important to retain an attorney to investigate all aspects of insurance coverage as well as potential wrongdoers.
Our attorneys have a combined nearly 75 years of legal experience, and we use that experience and our knowledge to maximize the financial recovery and settlements of our clients who have been injured or killed in ATV collisions. If you or a loved one has been harmed or killed as the result of someone else’s wrongdoing, contact Waldman & Associates to speak to one of our experienced ATV accident attorneys.