Minnesota’s Snowmobile Accident Lawyers
While snowmobiling is a popular recreational activity in Minnesota and our surrounding states, it can also be a dangerous pastime which can sometimes lead to serious injuries. The personal injury attorneys at Hall Law have considerable experience successfully handling snowmobile injury cases. As a result, we are well acquainted with the issues presented by such claims and are well positioned to ensure our clients receive the best possible result for their individual circumstances.
Snowmobile Negligence Law
Depending on the facts, a snowmobile accident may give rise to a civil cause of action for damages based on negligence. “Negligence is the failure to exercise such care as persons of ordinary prudence usually exercise under similar circumstances.” Mingo v Extrand, 230 N.W 895, 896 (1930). In order to prove a negligence suit against a defendant, the plaintiff must prove:
(1) A duty owed to the injured plaintiff;
(2) A breach of that duty by the defendant;
(3) An injury suffered by the plaintiff; and
(4) Proof that the injury was caused by the defendant’s breach of duty.
In negligence cases, a threshold question is whether the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff. Whether a duty is owed to a particular plaintiff often depends on the question of foreseeability, i.e., whether the defendant should have reasonably foreseen the harm caused by his or her conduct. The existence of a duty always depends upon the facts and circumstances of each case, and will be determined by the court as a matter of law.
Typically, persons operating a snowmobile owe third-persons a duty of care. Snowmobiles are generally ridden off-road on private or government-owned land. In some cases, landowners, including the federal government, state government and municipalities, can owe a duty of reasonable care to snowmobilers. A specific relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant is not an absolute requirement to establishing a legal duty, particularly when the consequences of a negligent act cause harm to another.
Snowmobile Popularity and Incidence of Accidents
Although, snowmobile type vehicles have been around since the 1890s, it was not until the mid-1960s that snowmobiles became more popular and were mass-produced for widespread use. As the use of snowmobiles increased in Minnesota and across the country, so did the incidence of snowmobile accidents.
According to estimates from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”) as many as 13,000 people are treated in hospital emergency rooms for snowmobile-related injuries each year. Moreover, the CPSC estimates that ten percent (10%) of those people treated for snowmobile-related injuries require further hospitalization. According to CPSC data, on a per-mile basis, snowmobilers are almost nine times more likely to suffer injury or death than automobile drivers.
Snowmobiling accidents can be caused by numerous factors. Two of the most common factors are alcohol use and excessive speed. Studies have shown that the incidence of alcohol use is very high among persons involved in snowmobile collisions. Speed is also a common problem. Some industry experts believe that the increased capabilities and design of snowmobiles may contribute to excessive speeds and accidents. Some experts suggest that snowmobiles have simply gotten too powerful. Many modern snowmobile come equipped with engines which exceed one-hundred thirty (130) horsepower, nearly the same horsepower as a midsized car. As a result, many snowmobiles can reach speeds exceeding eighty (80) miles per hour.
In recent years, manufacturers have begun to produce different types of snowmobiles for different purposes. One type is the trail/sport category, which encompasses the vast majority of snowmobiles. Such snowmobiles are suited for areas where there are marked, groomed trails where the rider need not venture into unknown areas in the back-country. Another type of snowmobile is the luxury/touring snowmobile. These snowmobiles are built for long-distance riding and often have good suspension systems, seating for two, and comforts such as heated handgrips and passenger footrests. Such snowmobiles are generally heavier than a trail snowmobile and will usually have less mobility. A third category of snowmobiles is the powder/mountain snowmobile. These snowmobiles are designed for use in back-country areas with few marked trails. These machines are equipped for riding in deep snow, and usually include features such as a narrow ski stance and an extra-long, extra-wide track to propel the machine through thick powder. A final group of snowmobiles is the utility snowmobile. These snowmobiles are generally designed for hauling activities. They are usually equipped with towing hitches and dual-range chain cases for hauling. In addition, to facilitate use in remote locations, they are often equipped with large capacity fuel tanks and wide, long tracks to cope with different snow conditions.
Most snowmobiles have two-stroke engines, similar to car and truck engines, except that they do not use valves to control the air and fuel mixture entering and exiting the engine. Instead, such engines have ports that allow the fuel mixture to enter and exit the engine. A two-stroke engine fires on every second stroke of the piston, allowing for greater power production.
Snowmobile windshields deflect wind, precipitation, and snow kicked up by the skis. The principle function of the windshield is to send wind angling over the head of the driver, decreasing the chilling effects of the cold. Windshields should be constructed of shatterproof plastic. The plastic must be resilient enough to withstand extreme cold air and extreme engine heat.
C. Suspension systems
Most modern snowmobiles have both front and rear suspension systems. Generally, front suspensions come in three types: parallel arm; strut-type; and leaf spring. Parallel arm front suspension is the most common type. It ensures that the front skis remain horizontal with the snow surface. The strut-type suspension operates with a telescopic strut suspending each ski. The leaf-spring suspension system was the original type of front suspension used on snowmobiles. The typical leaf spring system consisted of leaf springs with bushings at each end, attaching the springs to the skis.
The rear suspension system allows the track to move up and down dynamically, allowing the track to conform to the snow surface. As a result, the rear suspension system aids in traction and creates a smooth ride for the operator. There are various designs of rear suspension systems, some of which use coil-cover springs and shocks, and others which use torsion-type springs.
D. Starting Apparatus
Many modern snowmobiles are equipped with an electric starting device. However, manual starting devices are often available as a standby measure in the event of a failure in the snowmobile’s electrical system. While an electric starter can be much easier to use, the battery power needed can require careful maintenance and can present problems in cold weather.
A snowmobile’s throttle is usually a thumb controlled lever located on the handlebars. Depressing the thumb control causes the snowmobile to accelerate. Another type of throttle is designed for control by the finger tips as opposed to the thumb. The speed of a snowmobile can usually be greatly reduced simply by releasing the throttle.
F. Kill Switch
Some snowmobiles are equipped with a device known as a kill switch. These devices are intended as a means for ignition shutdown in case of emergency. The kill switch is usually located on the control panel and is independent of the ignition switch. One disadvantage of the kill switch is that inexperienced drivers may accidentally flip the switch, causing a sudden loss of power.
Preserve Your Rights
If you or a loved one has been involved in a snowmobile accident, it is important to act swiftly in order to preserve evidence and to ensure other key aspects of your case are not neglected. If you or one of your loved ones has a potential claim, please call today for a free consultation with one of our experienced personal injury attorneys.