Hurt rider calls vehicle 'dangerous'

February 01, 1994|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

A Columbia woman was driving an all-terrain vehicle that was "unusually dangerous" when it flipped backward and threw her off, her attorney argued in Howard Circuit Court yesterday.

But the lawyer for the ATV's distributor, Yamaha Motor Corp. USA, contended that the woman was not operating the vehicle properly in the July 1986 accident in which she was severely injured.

The arguments came during the first day of a trial of a lawsuit brought by Marcia Turner and her husband, Warren Turner, of the 10600 block of Vista Road in Columbia.

The Turners are seeking $9 million in damages against Yamaha of Cypress, Calif. The couple contends that the company sold them an unsafe and unstable vehicle, which caused the July 6, 1986, accident.

The Turners bought the 500-pound ATV in February 1986 at Maryland Yamaha, a Brooklyn Park dealership that is now closed. They paid about $2,400 for the vehicle.

Mrs. Turner, now 45, suffered a broken vertebrae in the crash, which occurred at her family's farm in Victoria, Va. She had to have metal rods implanted in her back to support her spine.

The woman, who had little experience in operating the Yamaha 225S, was cresting a 6-foot hill with a 17 degree incline when the ATV flipped over. She was traveling at about 5 mph.

Meridith Bond, a Knoxville, Tenn., attorney representing the Turners, told the jury that Yamaha is negligent for having sold a vehicle that is too difficult for the typical person to operate safely.

Mr. Bond faulted the ATV's short wheel-base, fixed axle, and its center of gravity. He also argued that the manual that Yamaha provided with the ATV was insufficient in its explanation of the vehicle's capabilities.

"The vehicle is defective and it is unusually dangerous," Mr. Bond said.

"They place a vehicle on the market without . . . any regard for human capabilities and limitations," he said. "It's an accident waiting to happen."

But Walter Smith Jr., a Washington attorney representing Yamaha, went through page after page of the company's manual showing how operators should drive the ATV.

He pointed out the manual's section that depicts the correct riding positions for operators driving on different terrains, including hills. He added that the dealership provided customers with riding tips and an operating guide for the ATV.

Mr. Smith told the jury that Mrs. Turner's husband and daughter drove the ATV at least 200 times -- including several times over the same hill where the accident occurred -- without any problems.

He argued that Mrs. Turner, and not the ATV, was the cause of the accident. He said the ATV is so stable that it could safely travel up a hill with a 40 percent incline.

The attorney suggested that Mrs. Turner gave the vehicle a "radical input" -- either changing gears, hitting the throttle or leaning improperly -- while going up the hill, causing it to flip backward.

Twenty-three witnesses, including numerous ATV experts, are expected to be called to testify at the trial before Judge Dennis Sweeney. The trial is expected to last about 10 days.

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