ATV and Other Off-Road Vehicle Accidents: Claims and Compensation

Who pays when you or your child are in an ATV or other off-road vehicle accident? Here’s what you need to know about getting compensation.

The use of recreational off-road vehicles is on the rise, and so are the number of injuries and fatalities.

While accidents involving off-road vehicles are highest among men in their mid-twenties, 33 percent of fatalities involve children under the age of sixteen.

More than half of all off-road accident injuries involve broken bones and other musculoskeletal injuries, followed by 25 percent of those suffering injuries to the head and face.

One out of ten victims in off-road vehicle accidents is permanently disabled.¹

Serious injuries from off-road vehicle accidents can have expensive, long-term consequences. Your financial recovery will start with seeking fair compensation to help pay for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

ATV Accident Injuries and Death

Off-road vehicles are a blast to drive and ride. But all that fun comes with risk. There are several versions of off-road vehicles, and one of the most popular is the All Terrain Vehicle (ATV).

Of all off-road motor vehicles, ATVs cause the most injuries and fatalities each year.

More than 101,000 ATV riders end up in emergency rooms every year. Twenty-six percent of injured ATV riders are under the age of sixteen. Sadly, more than 600 riders are killed each year.²

ATVs carry a high risk for serious injuries, particularly head injuries and injuries to the arms and legs. More than half of the individuals seriously injured in ATV accidents are children.³

ATVs come in three-, four- and even six-wheel versions. Their speeds can reach up to 45 miles an hour and can weigh up to 1,000 pounds. Most states don’t require a license to operate an ATV, so drivers are often 15 years old or younger.

Despite the advice of safety experts and pediatric associations, a growing number of states allow ATV use on public roadways. The majority of ATV accident deaths occur on paved roads.

An untrained, inexperienced or intoxicated driver can easily roll an ATV, resulting in critical injuries to the driver and passengers.

Although some new ATVs have seatbelts, there are few other safety features. Common accidents involve rollovers and collisions with other vehicles and solid objects. Injuries include lacerations, contusions, abrasions, minor burns, and whiplash.

More serious injuries include broken bones, back and spinal cord injuries, brain trauma, skull fractures, second- and third-degree burns, and death.

Factors in ATV accidents include:

  • Inadequate maintenance
  • Defective parts and equipment
  • Driver inexperience, intoxication, and recklessness

Other Common Off-Road Motor Vehicles

ATVs aren’t the only way to have fun. Americans of all ages enjoy using a variety of motor-powered recreational vehicles. Each type of off-road vehicle carries a risk for accidental injuries and death.

Golf Carts

Today golf carts aren’t limited to the golf course. Businesses like shopping malls, realtors, amusement parks and car dealerships use golf carts for transporting customers. Golf carts are a favorite form of transportation in planned communities, especially for seniors.

Very few golf carts have seat belts. Weight distribution is often uneven, and they can easily tip over. Golf cart injuries include abrasions (scrapes), contusions (bruises), lacerations (cuts), and whiplash.

More serious injuries are broken bones, spinal cord injuries, concussions, neck and back injuries, and even death.

Factors in golf cart accidents include:

  • Inadequate maintenance, bad brakes, and steering malfunctions
  • Driving on uneven ground, driving off curbs or other elevations
  • Faulty golf cart design, defective parts, and equipment
  • Driver intoxication, recklessness, or inexperience


Most go-cart accidents involve children 15 years old and younger. Go-carts pose unique dangers to drivers and spectators. Cart speeds can sometimes exceed 30 miles an hour and drivers are often young, reckless and inexperienced.

Go-cart drivers travel inches from the ground, and collisions between drivers are common.

Many track owners don’t require drivers to be licensed or wear helmets. Often, spectators are only feet away from the track. Go-carts normally have exposed gas tanks, 300-degree exhaust pipes, and tires that spit off chunks of hot rubber.

In go-cart accident claims, compensable injuries include bruises, cuts, scrapes, minor burns, and whiplash. More serious injuries are burns, brain concussions, skull fractures, disk hernias, spinal cord injuries, and death.

Factors in go-cart accidents include:

  • Poor track design
  • Poor cart and engine maintenance
  • Defective parts and equipment
  • Driver recklessness and inexperience
  • The absence of fencing between spectators and drivers


Snowmobiles are popular with private owners in snowy regions and are often available for rent at resorts and ski lodges.

Common snowmobiling activities include competitive racing, trail riding, “boondocking” (riding in new and often unchartered areas), carving (riding with one ski lifted from the ground), grass drags (drag racing off the snow and on grassy areas), safety patrol in mountainous and forested areas, and more.

Snowmobiles can weigh more than 700 pounds and reach speeds of more than 90 miles an hour. Most don’t have seatbelts. Injuries can result from high-speed rollovers and collisions with other snowmobiles and stationary objects like trees and buildings.

Common snowmobile injuries include lacerations, abrasions, contusions, and whiplash. More serious injuries are brain concussions, skull fractures, broken bones, and back injuries.

Factors in snowmobile accidents include:

  • Poor mechanical maintenance
  • Defective parts and equipment
  • Driver inexperience, intoxication, and recklessness

Dune Buggies

Enthusiasts usually drive dune buggies on beaches and dunes. Some have rollover bars, and some don’t, but regardless, few drivers and passengers wear helmets. The most common dune buggy accidents are rollovers and collisions with other vehicles.

In dune buggy accidents, common injuries include burns and whiplash. More serious injuries are broken bones, concussions, skull fractures, back injuries, spinal cord injuries, and death.

Factors in dune buggy accidents include:

  • Poor maintenance
  • Defective parts and equipment
  • Driver inexperience, intoxication, and recklessness

Personal Watercraft/ Jet Skis

Jet skis and other personal watercraft (PWC) can reach speeds up to 70 miles per hour. Most states require operators to follow local and state boating laws.

Authorities strictly enforce laws regarding speeding, reckless driving, failing to yield, failure to wear life jackets, and intoxication. In a flip-over, the rider can be pinned underwater and drown.

The most common accidents with PWCs are collisions with other watercraft, flip-overs, crashes into docking areas, hitting sandbars, and overboard riders and passengers getting sucked into the engine.

Injuries from PWC accidents include lacerations, abrasions, and contusions, sprained ligaments and tendons, and whiplash. More serious injuries are to the head, neck, and spinal cord. Death by drowning is not uncommon.

Factors causing PWC accidents include:

  • Driver intoxication, inexperience, and recklessness
  • Poor maintenance
  • Defective parts and equipment

Finding Fault for Off-road Accidents

When you or your injured child have suffered through an off-road vehicle accident caused by someone else, you’ll expect to be compensated. Figuring out who may be to blame, and how to prove their fault can be tricky.

It helps to understand some legal terms used by insurance companies and attorneys.

Duty of Care means the obligation to be careful and avoid causing harm to others.

Negligence happens when a someone fails to act responsibly or does something no reasonable person would do. For example, driving a jet-ski while intoxicated.

Liability simply means responsibility. The at-fault person is usually liable for the accident victim’s damages.

Damages for off-road vehicle accident victims can include medical costs, therapy and rehab costs, out-of-pocket medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

Proximate Cause is an action that sets off a chain of events leading to an expected result, like an injury, which wouldn’t have otherwise happened.

Off-road vehicle owners, drivers, and parents of minor drivers have a duty of care to make sure whoever drives the vehicle operates it safely so as not to injure passengers and spectators.

Property owners have a duty of care to make sure the land where enthusiasts drive off-road vehicles is free from dangerous conditions.

Manufacturers of the vehicle’s parts and equipment have a duty of care to make the vehicle safe.

When a person or business violates their duty of care, they are negligent. When that negligence causes an accident, the injured victim has grounds to pursue compensation for their damages.

To win an insurance claim or an injury lawsuit against an at-fault party, you’ll need to prove four things:

  1. The at-fault person owed you a duty of care
  2. The at-fault person negligently breached that duty
  3. The at-fault person’s negligence caused the accident
  4. The accident caused your injuries

When the Victim Shares the Blame

It’s not always easy to root out who’s to blame for accidents that result in serious or fatal injuries. Sometimes the injury victim shares part of the blame for the circumstances surrounding the wreck.

No matter how badly you’ve been hurt, if you share the blame for your injuries, your potential compensation award can be significantly reduced or completely forfeit.

Don’t give up. If the insurance company says you don’t deserve full compensation, contact a personal injury attorney right away to protect your claim.

The at-fault party’s insurance company or defense lawyer will always look for reasons to put part of the blame on the victim.

Assumption of risk happens when you voluntarily enter a dangerous situation fully aware of the risk involved. The argument will be that you knew it was dangerous, you could have avoided the situation, but you did it anyway.

Example of Assumption of Risk:

Max spent the afternoon at the ski lodge tossing back shots of bourbon with his buddies. Later, they decided it would be fun to rent some snowmobiles and explore the trails.

Max crashed his snowmobile into a tree, suffering multiple fractures and a traumatic brain injury. His hospital records showed a blood alcohol level just over the legal limit.

Max lost his injury compensation case against the ski lodge. Max assumed the risk of driving a snowmobile while intoxicated. The ski lodge was not responsible for his injuries.

Comparative negligence is similar to assumption of risk, in that the injured person shares the blame for the circumstances that caused the injuries. Comparative negligence rules vary from state-to-state.

A few states have rules that leave you empty-handed if you share any blame for an accident. However, most states allow the injured person to pursue compensation from the at-fault party, even if you are partly to blame for the accident.

Generally, your portion of the blame is deducted from your eligible compensation.

Example of Comparative Negligence

Brad bought a used ATV. He was proudly showing off his new purchase to his buddy, Ted.

Brad told Ted he got a good deal on the on the ATV because the brakes where shot and the steering was sketchy. He admitted to Ted that he’d never driven an ATV before.

Brad was eager to take a ride, and Ted hopped on behind him.

A few minutes later, Brad slammed the ATV into a tree. Both men were seriously injured. Ted filed a lawsuit against Brad demanding $10,000 for his medical costs.

While the jury found Brad was to blame for driving an unsafe vehicle, he wasn’t the only one to blame for Ted’s injuries.

Brad’s attorney convinced the jury that Ted knew the brakes were dangerous and Brad had no experience driving an ATV, but egged Brad on to go for a ride.

The jury found that Ted was equally to blame for his injuries. Under the state’s comparative negligence rules, Ted was awarded $5,000 of his $10,000 demand. The award was reduced by 50 percent, reflecting Ted’s portion of the blame for his injuries.

Seeking Injury Compensation

There can easily be more than one party to blame for an off-road vehicle accident. Liable parties may have insurance coverage, personal assets, or other financial resources you can pursue for compensation.

Potentially liable parties include:

  • The driver
  • The driver’s parents if the driver was a minor at the time of the crash
  • The off-road vehicle owner
  • Manufacturers of defective parts or vehicle equipment
  • Property owner
  • Drivers and owners of other vehicles involved in a collision

To receive compensation for injuries in an off-road vehicle accident claim, you have the burden to prove who caused your injuries and the extent of your damages.  Your best proof comes from collecting good evidence.

Some of the most effective evidence in off-road accidents is:

  • Witness statements of the circumstances leading up to the accident, as well as what they saw and heard during the accident.
  • Proof of the driver’s age, particularly for underage drivers.
  • Admissions made by the driver, like “I didn’t see that hill coming up,” or “I had too much to drink,” or “I lost control.”
  • Photographs or videos capturing images of the area where the accident occurred, evidence of drug or alcohol use, and reckless driving.
  • Incident reports from responding police or fire and rescue personnel.
  • Medical narratives from emergency room doctors directly linking your injuries to the accident, as well as your treatment and rehab records.

Locating Available Insurance Coverage

If you have injuries, it’s important to learn whether the driver or owner of the vehicle has insurance. The owner and driver’s car insurance policy may cover off-road vehicle accident claims.

Another source is the negligent person’s homeowners policy. In some cases, parents are legally responsible for injuries their children cause.

Owners of business or commercial properties that provide recreational vehicles or allow off-road vehicle use are likely to carry business liability insurance.

When You Need an Attorney to Win

If you walked away from an off-road vehicle accident with minor soft-tissue injuries like bruises, muscle strain, or a mild whiplash, you can probably negotiate a fair settlement directly with the insurance company.

If there is no available insurance, you may be better off by using your health care coverage to pay for your treatment.

When you’ve fully recovered from minor injuries, it’s probably not worth hiring an attorney to file a lawsuit. However,  you may be able to seek compensation from the at-fault party through your local small claims court.

You need an attorney for severe injury cases. Life-altering injuries, like multiple fractures, spinal cord injuries, and traumatic brain injuries are high-dollar claims. A good attorney can discover insurance policies and personal assets of the at-fault parties that you would not be able to pursue on your own.

Immediately contact an attorney for:

  • Severe injury claims
  • Wrongful death claims
  • Accusations of shared blame
  • Accidents involving an underage driver

Don’t settle for less. Get the compensation you deserve for you or your loved one. There’s no obligation, and it costs nothing to find out what an experienced attorney can do for you.

ATV and Off-Road Accident Questions & Answers

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>