Arctic Cat to appeal $8.4 million product liability verdict in test-ride case

Publish Date: 
Feb 8, 2012
By Holly J. Wagner

Arctic Cat has vowed to appeal a jury verdict that awarded $8.4 million to a Florida man who was pinned underneath a throttled-up ATV during an accident on a test ride.

Even though all parties agreed at trial that both the injured customer, Michael Joseph Scott Corbett of Jasper, and the dealership’s salesman, Greg Waitcus Jr., were drunk May 3, 2008, when Waitcus gave Corbett the keys to test-ride a 2008 Thundercat 1000, the jury laid all fault at Arctic Cat’s door, finding the OEM 100 percent liable for Corbett’s injuries.

“There is no question that the salesman violated all the rules for a safe test drive. But if the safety equipment had worked, everyone would have walked away,” Corbett’s attorney, Henry “Hank” Didier said.

The plaintiff alleged Arctic Cat knew the Thundercat quad was dangerous, and failed to take steps to correct the danger from rollovers or of the machine continuing to run in drive mode after a rollover.

“Arctic Cat plans to appeal the verdict,” a corporate spokesman told Dealernews. “As this remains a pending legal matter before the court, we won't have any further comment at this time."

Tilt sensor. The case centered on the Thundercat’s safety system which, upon tilting past 65 degrees, is designed to shut off the engine automatically to prevent injuries. Didier argued that Artic Cat chose to use a tilt sensor that was known to give false signals about the vehicle’s position; as a result, the ATV did not shut off in this incident. The vehicle had no kill switch or lanyard control to shut it off. The sensor problem would have cost $4.41 per vehicle to fix, Didier maintained.

Didier further claimed that Arctic Cat internal documents revealed the OEM knew five months before manufacturing the ATV that it had a problem with the tilt sensor, but chose to leave the tilt sensor on the ATV instead of fixing it.

The case also claimed the dealership, Santa Fe Power Sports, knew that the vehicle was dangerous, failed to give the test rider any instruction or warnings about the vehicle, and that the dealership was negligent in employing Waitcus, who the plaintiff claims was habitually drinking alcohol at off-site sales events. However, the jury found no fault with the dealership or its staff.

Neither Santa Fe Powersports VP and GM Greg Waitcus Sr., nor the dealership’s attorney, Jennifer Lester, returned calls seeking comment.

Test ride gone wrong. According to court documents, on the day of the accident Corbett, 36, was attending a rodeo at the Jasper Rodeo Arena in Hamilton County, Fla. Santa Fe Powersports, a rodeo sponsor, and had a booth at the event.

Corbett, who admitted at trial that he had been drinking all day, met Waitcus Jr., at the booth after the rodeo around 1:20 a.m., and found him riding an ATV in a demonstration area.

“Without providing any instruction, training, required safety equipment, or warnings of the risks associated with taking a test ride,” Waticus handed Corbett the keys to the ATV to take a test ride around the arena, the court documents stated.

“Usually dealerships train their own employees, but this guy, Arctic Cat trained him directly. It was a fairly new dealership,” Didier asserted.

Within minutes of beginning the ride Corbett hit a divot in the arena, causing the ATV to roll over and land on top of him. The tires were in direct contact with his arm, legs and body.

“He grew up with ATVs. He owned three ATVs at the time. Eyewitnesses at the accident said he was going 12 to 15 mph. He furrowed that front left tire and it rolled over,” Didier says. “He was trapped under there in excess of 13 seconds, essentially holding it away from his face.”

As a result injuries sustained, Corbett will never again be able to work in the construction industry, where he was previously a foreman, and he faces several surgeries to correct wounds and scars, Didier said.

Corbett sought damages on allegations of strict liability and negligence against Arctic Cat and the dealership, and negligent entrustment against the dealer (for allowing the salesman control of the vehicle), negligent retention and supervision of Waitcus Jr. against the dealership, and negligence against Waitcus Jr. The jury placed all blame on Arctic Cat, finding that no safety precautions, instruction or warnings for the test ride would have prevented Corbett’s injuries.

If an appellate court agrees to review the case, it could take a year and a half to resolve. If not, the judgment will stand. Attorneys said they expect to find out whether the case will move forward within the next 60 days.

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