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U.S. District Court, Providence, Rhode Island

This action arose out of an accident involving an all-terrain vehicle (ATV), which the 26-year-old male plaintiff was operating on a mountain road when the vehicle failed to respond to the plaintiff’s attempts to make a left turn and continued straight over a 60 foot embankment.

The ATV involved in the subject accident was a ________ Honda ATC-________.

The plaintiff contended that the ATV was defectively designed due to its failure to incorporate a safe steering mechanism.

The plaintiff’s evidence indicated that the plaintiff was operating the ATV on a mountainside road in Colorado Springs, Colorado at a speed of between five and ten miles per hour, when he attempted to make a left hand turn, the vehicle failed to respond and the ATV continued straight over an embankment. The plaintiff suffered a cervical injury which left him a quadriplegic.

The plaintiff’s expert mechanical engineer testified that the subject ATV was defectively designed due to the fact that it was equipped with a solid rear axle. The plaintiff’s expert explained that unlike the average automobile where there is a differential between the wheels, allowing them to turn at different rates and thereby facilitate turning, the subject ATV’s steering system did not incorporate a differential and the wheels turned at the same rate of speed whether the vehicle was turning or not. The plaintiff’s expert explained that in order to compensate for this, the operator is required to lean away from the direction of the turn to reduce the weight on the inside wheel in order to let it slip during the turning process. The plaintiff’s expert explained that while this is almost impossible on a solid surface, it can be accomplished on sand or dirt. In the plaintiff’s case, he was unable to effect the turn and the ATV went into a "plowing" or "understeering" maneuver.

The plaintiff’s human factors expert testified that the ATV was equipped with improper warnings both on the machine itself and in the accompanying product literature. The plaintiff’s expert maintained that the product literature should have warned the purchaser that the machine was "rider dependent" in that the rider, by leaning in the proper direction during the turning process, became a part of the machine’s steering mechanism.

The defendant Honda maintained that the vehicle was safe and came equipped with adequate warnings. The defendant asserted that the plaintiff’s lack of due care while operating the vehicle was the proximate cause of the accident. The plaintiff presented three eyewitnesses to support the plaintiff’s claim that the vehicle started to plow just before going straight over the embankment. The defendant contended that if the machine malfunctioned, it did so because the machine had been improperly maintained in that the brakes were permitted to deteriorate and at the time of the accident, were not in good working order and there was an improper amount of air in one or more tires. The defendant additionally asserted that the plaintiff was comparatively negligent in riding the ATV in a mountainous location in dangerously close proximity to the embankment.

The plaintiff’s primary treating neurologist testified that the plaintiff suffered injury to the cervical spine resulting in permanent quadriplegia.

The plaintiff’s physician testified as to the plaintiff’s prognosis and offered the opinion that the plaintiff has a normal life expectancy.

The plaintiff’s health care economist calculated future health care costs combined with lost earning capacity reduced to a present value figure of $________. At the time of the accident, the plaintiff was working as an army tank mechanic earning $________ per year.

The jury returned a gross award of $________ reduced by 15% for the plaintiff’s comparative negligence. The total recovery, including interest, was $________. The case was remanded for retrial on the issue of liability only.

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