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Legal remedies for injury or death from WV recreation vehicle crashes

Many in West Virginia operate recreational vehicles without much thought of the ramifications of potential accidents, but such incidents are potentially serious both physically and financially.

Part of West Virginia culture is our relationship to the natural world, which includes mountains, hollows, valleys, rock formations, caves, creeks, waterfalls and deep forests. To access these natural features, many West Virginians use off-road vehicles (ORVs) – another major cultural phenomenon.

Recreation and utility terrain vehicles becoming more mainstream

In March 2021, a new 80-mile off-road trail system opened at Cabwaylingo State Forest in conjunction with the Hatfield McCoy Trail Authority. The system allows all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), utility-terrain vehicles (UTVs), dirt bikes and other kinds of ORVs. Recent state legislation tasked the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) with creating the new trail system.

While an expanding trail system is making remote areas of West Virginia more accessible via ORVs, since mid-2020, a new state law has allowed “special purpose vehicles” to operate on certain streets and highways. These vehicles include ATVs, UTVs, mini-trucks, pneumatic-tired military vehicles and “full-size special purpose-built vehicles.” To operate legally on designated road types, the vehicle must have certain safety equipment installed and its owner must comply with insurance, licensing and registration requirements.

Bottom line? ORV traffic both on- and off-road is likely on the rise in the Mountain State, which may mean an increase in motor vehicle accidents involving ATVs, UTVs and other similar vehicles. For example, in August 2021, a woman died and two others sustained injuries when their ORV’s brakes failed on a Monroe County mountain trail and they hit a tree.

Bases of liability

In an ATV or other off-road vehicle accident, the driver or passengers – if allowed on the particular vehicle type – may be wrongly injured or killed and other parties potentially liable for these as well as other related losses. Of course, if the mishap involved another vehicle the other driver would have responsibility if they were negligent, reckless or aggressive in the vehicle’s operation and that driving behavior caused the crash. But other parties could have contributed to the harm such as someone who performed shoddy maintenance or repair services on an involved vehicle, or a designer or manufacturer of an ORV (or other involved vehicle type) who used a faulty design, substandard materials or parts, or made a mistake in the vehicle manufacturing process.

Some potential legal theories of liability:

  • Defective vehicles or vehicle parts, dangerous design, manufacturing errors
  • Negligent maintenance or repair
  • Negligent or distracted driving
  • Drunk or drugged driving
  • Child driver too young to drive safely or without required training
  • Driver too inexperienced for dangerous terrain
  • Operating in poor light or bad weather
  • Insufficient maintenance resulting in driving with bald tires, worn brakes or burned out lights
  • Driving in violation of the law such as speeding or failing to adhere to traffic laws
  • And others

It is important for an injured victim (or their attorney) to consult with medical or vocational professionals to understand the full scope of harm and what will be required financially now and in the future to make the person whole or to cover all related expenses and losses. These could include:

  • Medical expenses
  • Pharmaceutical costs
  • Medical equipment
  • Adaptive equipment
  • Modifications to home and vehicle
  • In-home nursing, housekeeping or personal services
  • Loss of companionship or of the enjoyment of life
  • Pain and suffering
  • Therapies
  • Lost past and future wages
  • Reduction of earning capacity
  • Physical losses such as vehicle damage
  • Plastic surgery
  • Vocational training
  • And others

A lawyer can provide information and guidance about these issues.

The personal injury attorneys at Farmer, Cline & Campbell, PLLC, with offices in Charleston, Beckley and Morgantown represent injured victims of OTV accidents as well as the survivors of those who have died in these crashes.