Front of ATV that is covered in mud.

Liability for ATV Accidents on Private Property

What has four wheels, travels up to 65 miles an hour and can be operated without a license?

All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) or “four wheelers” are revered for their sporting and utility capabilities, making them beneficial for farmers, yard workers and emergency response teams. There are generally very few regulations restricting their use on private property among even the youngest of drivers. However, nearly a quarter of fatal ATV accidents from 1982 through 2016 involved a child younger than 16 years old.

ATVs are high-powered vehicles that can be helpful, fun and even life-saving – when they are used properly. But if a four wheeler is operated unsafely, it can cause an accident resulting in serious injury, disability or death. Keep reading to learn more about liability for ATV accidents that take place on private property.    

A Closer Look at the Potential Risks of ATVs

Honda first introduced a three-wheeled All-Terrain Cycle in the U.S. in 1970 to combat the decline in motorcycle sales during winter.

As demand for the three-wheeled cycle continued to grow, so too did the frequency of accidents and injuries, prompting the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to get involved. Ultimately, 10 ATV manufacturers settled the CPSC’s federal complaint in the April 1988 Final Consent Decree, which banned three-wheel cycles from sale. The four wheel model we are familiar with today has dominated the market ever since.

While more sophisticated than its predecessor, four wheelers have several features that can contribute to safety hazards, including:

  • A high center of gravity and narrow wheel base, creating high rollover risk
  • High speed capabilities
  • Ability to provide ground clearance on uneven terrain
  • Minimal rider protection from the elements
  • Limited or nonexistent safety features, such as roll bars

According to CPSC data from the years 2010 through 2013, an average of 77 children under the age of 16 years old and 532 adults die each year from ATV accidents.

Preventing Four Wheeler Accidents

Reasonable precautions can greatly reduce the risk of a serious ATV accident. The CPSC recommends the following “Rules of the Trail:”

  • Do not drive ATVs on paved [public] roads.
  • Do not allow a child under 16 to drive or ride an adult ATV.
  • Do not drive ATVs with a passenger or ride as a passenger.
  • Always wear a helmet and other protective gear such as eye protection, boots, gloves, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt.
  • Take a hands-on safety training course.

State law and other statutory codes regarding licensing, operation and ownership of All-terrain Vehicles should always be followed.

State law controls the operation of four wheelers on public property. In Missouri, for example, it is illegal for anyone to ride an ATV on any public road unless it is operated for official government use, or operated by a licensed driver for agricultural use. Furthermore, in the state of Missouri, these riders are not legally required to wear helmets or other safety gear. Missouri state law regarding ATV operation does not apply to an individual’s private property – and there is no age requirement for drivers.

Determining Liability for ATV Accidents 

For individuals who spend a lot of time around an ATV, it can be easy to forget how dangerous these high-powered vehicles can be – even under the most innocent of circumstances.

When an ATV accident does occur on private property, it can be devastating for all parties involved. Although these incidents can happen in a number of different ways, they are often the result of negligence.

Negligence is regarded as carelessness that directly or implicitly results in a harmful accident, and can fall into one of three legal categories:

  • Negligent Entrustment could apply to a parent allowing a young child or reckless teenager to drive a high-speed ATV. For this, the owner needs to know, or have reasonable cause to know,that the driver is unfit and likely to cause injury to others.

  • Negligent Maintenance could refer to an owner who allows riders on a vehicle they have not kept in proper condition. This could also include failure to inform a rider of known product defects.

  • Negligent Supervision may apply to an adult or guardian who allows children to operate a four wheeler when they are not present to observe.

It is also possible that there could be comparative negligence, where both parties are assigned a percentage of liability for their perceived contributions to the cause of an injury. Any assessment of a person’s potential liability for an accident should be discussed with a qualified personal injury attorney.

Finding Legal Representation for an ATV Accident in Missouri

Emotions run high when any person is seriously injured in an accident. Legal action may need to be brought forth against a relative or friend, or even the parents of your child’s friend. Let the personal injury attorneys at Padberg, Corrigan and Appelbaum be your guide throughout the process of protecting yourself and your loved ones.  

One recent case was brought forth when an 18-year-old young man suffered a traumatic brain injury and a fractured spine, after being struck by a dump truck while crossing the road on an ATV in Jefferson County, Missouri. Our attorneys revealed that the dump truck did not have proper working brakes and that the driver was speeding, all of which contributed to the cause of the accident. As a result, the young man and his family were awarded a $950,000 settlement.  

If you or your loved one has suffered from an ATV collision, the law office of Padberg, Corrigan & Appelbaum may be able to help. Schedule a free consultation to discuss your case with an experienced St. Louis premises liability attorney