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ARTICLE ID 28271

$________ GROSS - PRODUCTS LIABILITY - NEGLIGENCE - HONDA THREE-WHEEL ALL-TERRAIN CYCLE ALLEGED TO BE DEFECTIVELY DESIGNED IN ASPECTS OF HANDLING AND STABILITY - WRONGFUL DEATH OF OPERATOR - COMPENSATORY AND PUNITIVE DAMAGES CLAIMED.

Superior Court for the State of Alaska, Second Judicial

District This action arose out of a three-wheel ATC accident which resulted in the death of the plaintiff’s decedent, a 56-year-old Yupik Eskimo, who was a village elder as well as a magistrate.

The accident occurred as the decedent rode his ________ Honda 250ES three-wheel ATC in inclement weather down a rocky hill trail. The plaintiffs alleged that the accident was caused by ATC’s defective design with regard to handling and stability.

The plaintiffs contended that Honda acted maliciously in selling three-wheel all-terrain cycles with specific knowledge of their seriously dangerous propensities.

The subject accident occurred on October 26, ________, outside the village of Savoonga on St. Lawrence Island, which is in the Bering Sea between Siberia and Nome, Alaska. The decedent was riding the three-wheel Honda ATC down a rocky hill trail when, the evidence established, that the decedent gained speed as he descended the trail and overturned near the bottom of the hill.

He died instantaneously from massive head injuries. The decedent was not wearing a helmet at the time of the accident.

The plaintiffs called six expert witness in an attempt to establish that the Honda 250ES three-wheeled ATC was unreasonably dangerous in that it was difficult to handle and in that it was unstable. The plaintiff’s experts maintained that the three-wheel ATC design was inherently unstable and difficult to handle, thereby rendering it unreasonably dangerous. The plaintiffs experts argued that Honda’s testing of the three-wheel ATC during its developmental stages was grossly inadequate.

The plaintiffs contended that the defendant acted maliciously in continuing to market the subject vehicle with the knowledge that the Consumer Products Safety Commission was investigating the safety of three-wheel ATCs. The Trial Court permitted plaintiffs to introduce evidence that the Consumer Product Safety Commission had investigated ATCs from ________ from ________. The Court also admitted evidence that no new three-wheel ATCs have been sold since December of ________, under the terms of a Consent Decree between the United States’ ATC distributors and the Federal government.

The defendant countered that the vehicle was safe as designed and manufactured and that it was not unreasonably dangerous. The defendant’s engineering experts maintained that the three-wheel ATC vehicle, like the two-wheel and four-wheel ATV, is a stable and safe vehicle and that the three-wheel design allows the driver tighter control and more maneuverability under certain situations.

The defendant maintained that tens of thousands of hours of running tests were performed on this vehicle during the developmental stages. Honda additionally argued that the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s own data proved the safety of ATCs and showed that the overwhelming majority of ATC accidents are p 7 3 the result of rider factors. The defendant called a former CPSC Director of Epidemiology to testify about Consumer Product Safety Commission accident data regarding the three-wheel ATCs.

The defendant additionally called an accident reconstruction expert who reconstructed the accident from the available physical evidence and eyewitness testimony. From this expert’s testimony, the defense argued that the sole cause of the decedent’s fatal accident was operator error. The defendant established that the weather conditions were difficult at the time of the accident due to severe wind conditions with gusts exceeding 50 mph. The decedent was traveling with no eye protection, wearing only his eyeglasses, which the defendant argued may have actually hindered his visibility under the prevailing wind conditions. The defendant additionally offered evidence that the front brake had been removed from this vehicle some time prior to the subject accident and that the decedent had no front brake at the time of the accident. An eyewitness testified that he observed the decedent descending the hill and specifically observed the vehicle pick up speed as it made its descent, although he could not discern the cause of the acceleration from his vantage point.

The plaintiffs sought to recover wrongful death damages for the loss of the decedent, including loss of society and companionship, loss of support and loss of inheritance. The plaintiffs additionally claimed punitive damages based upon evidence allegedly establishing that the defendant Honda acted maliciously in continuing to market this allegedly unsafe vehicle while the Consumer Products Safety Commission was undertaking an investigation into the safety of ATC vehicles.

The plaintiffs made a pre-trial Offer of Compromise in the amount of $________ and rejected an Offer of Compromise in excess of $________. Following two days of deliberation, the jury found that the product was defective, but allocated 50% of the accident- producing fault to the decedent. The jury awarded no damages to three adult plaintiffs, and only $________ to each of two minor plaintiffs. The award to each minor plaintiff was reduced to $________ reflecting reflecting the liability apportionment for a net award of $________. The jury rejected the plaintiffs’ punitive damages claim. Under Alaska law, plaintiffs are responsible for the defendants’ trial costs and attorneys’ fees which will significantly exceed the $________ Offer of Compromise tendered by the defense prior to trial.

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