Suit over woman's injury in ATV accident is settled for $70,000

February 04, 1994|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

Midway through a Howard Circuit Court trial, a Columbia couple settled their $9 million lawsuit against the distributor of an all-terrain vehicle that flipped backward and seriously injured the woman 7 1/2 years ago.

Marcia and Warren Turner accepted a $70,000 settlement Wednesday afternoon, just before the couple's attorneys were to finish their case against Yamaha Motor Corp. USA on the third day of a jury trial.

The Turners, of the 10600 block of Vista Road, had sought the damages in their lawsuit against Yamaha, of Cypress, Calif., contending that the ATV was so unsafe that it caused the July 1986 accident.

The attorneys for the Turners would not reveal the amount of the settlement, but a Yamaha attorney said that the company agreed to pay the couple $70,000.

Walter Smith Jr., a Washington lawyer for Yamaha, said the company had offered the Turners $60,000 to settle the suit before the trial started, but the couple wanted $150,000. The lawyers then went to Judge Dennis M. Sweeney to negotiate the settlement during the trial.

"It was purely an economic decision," Mr. Smith said. "It has nothing to do with the merits of the case."

Steve Markey, a Baltimore lawyer who was a member of the team of attorneys for the Turners, said the settlement guarantees that Yamaha will cover Mrs. Turner's medical expenses caused by the injuries she received in the accident.

"They started this case . . . with the sole intention of taking care of the medical expenses," Mr. Markey said. "[The settlement] would put something in their pockets beyond that."

The medical bills for Mrs. Turner, who does not have insurance, total about $20,000 so far, Mr. Markey said.

Mrs. Turner, 45, is undergoing physical therapy and a costly procedure to have two metal rods removed from her back, Mr. Markey said. The rods were implanted after the accident to support Mrs. Turner's spine but have broken.

The Turners and Yamaha had discussed a possible settlement of the suit earlier in the proceedings, but the parties were far apart on the amount of the settlement and the discussions didn't continue, Mr. Markey said.

Wednesday's settlement came as the parties waited for Judge Sweeney to rule on whether the plaintiffs could introduce warnings that were issued by manufacturers after Mrs. Turner's accident.

The manufacturers initially issued warnings that advised ATV operators to downshift while traveling up hills, but they later began advising drivers against such shifting, Mr. Markey said.

The attorney noted that Yamaha did not admit responsibility for any of the allegations in the Turners' lawsuit as part of the settlement.

Mrs. Turner was operating a four-wheel Yamaha 225S on July 6, 1986, about five months after the vehicle was purchased, at her family's farm in Victoria, Va.

She had driven the ATV about a half-dozen times, including the day before the accident, without any mishaps.

On the day of the accident, Mrs. Turner was cresting a 6-foot hill with a 17-degree incline when the ATV flipped backward and threw her off.

The Turners asserted at the trial that Yamaha had been negligent in selling a vehicle that is too difficult for the typical person to operate safely. The couple's attorneys faulted the ATV's design as defective and unstable.

Yamaha's attorneys argued that Mrs. Turner, not the ATV, was to blame for the accident. They suggested that she gave the vehicle a "radical input" -- either changing gears, hitting the throttle or leaning improperly -- while going up the hill, causing it to flip.

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