Birch v. Polaris Industries – Product Liability Case Fails Over Missed Deadline

The manufacturer of an off-road vehicle was able to convince justices with the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals that a trial judge was right to dismiss a wrongful death/ product liability lawsuit against it for plaintiff’s failure to amend the complaint prior to deadline. 

In Birch v. Polaris Industries, Inc., plaintiff had asked trial court to amend the original complaint to add new legal theories and also request additional discovery. However, they did so after the deadlines for amending pleadings and for discovery had passed. Trial court rejected the motion and decided that, based on the unamended complaint, plaintiff’s case was weak. It granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment.

On appeal, the 10th Circuit found no judicial error. 

This case underscores the critical importance of hiring a dedicated, proactive product liability lawyer. It’s important to formulate a solid legal strategy early, and to stay abreast of key deadlines and requirements.

According to court records, the case started with the purchase of an off-road vehicle (similar to an all-terrain vehicle, but enclosed at the top), from a manufacturer dealership in 2011. Less than a month later, decedent and his son took the vehicle out for a spin. However, while they were driving, the vehicle hit a bump.

This caused the vehicle to tip onto its passenger side. This resulted in decedent’s hand getting stuck underneath the vehicle, which caused him injury.

This incident caused the vehicle’s roll-over protection structure, which protects passengers if the vehicle pitches over, to be destroyed.

Back at the dealership, which also had a repair center, decedent was quoted a price of $6,000 to fix the damage. He wasn’t happy with that price. He asked if the technician would be willing to fix it off the books. Because decedent was a friend of a friend, the technician, a master service dealer technician, agreed.

The technician ordered a new “roll cage” that was originally created for use on a 2008 model. This was a 2011, and the company had made substantial changes to the part since. The technician installed the part.

About a year later, decedent and a friend were riding the vehicle in a state park when, after going up a sand dune, the vehicle went airborne. It then pitched forward on the face of the dune. The repaired part buckled on impact, and decedent was pinned to the ground. He died a short time later.

His son and personal representative sued on behalf of his estate, alleging product liability, negligence and breach of warranty. Under state law in Utah, where this case was filed, all three of these allegations require a showing that the vehicle was defective at the time it was sold.

Defendant countered that because the vehicle’s rollover protection feature was altered by a cab frame that was both aftermarket and incompatible,  it wasn’t liable. Plaintiff argued the cab frame that replaced the part had been made by the manufacturer and was installed by a mechanic certified by the company.

The family argued the frame that was on the vehicle was made from cheaper steel that was cold-rolled and not strong enough to protect occupants. The company changed its design in 2011 to use thicker, hardened steel bars, and plaintiffs contended defendants hid the fact that this change in design was done to improve the strength and safety of the vehicle. Further, the company never warned the public that the old models might be unsafe.

But the problem was the arguments regarding failure to warn weren’t raised until after the known deadline.

Call Allred & Allred P.C. at 334.396.9200 to speak with a Montgomery personal injury lawyer.

Additional Resources:

Birch v. Polaris Industries, Inc., Dec. 23, 2015, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

More Blog Entries:

Edwards v. Hanger – Auto Accident Statute of Limitations and Service of Process, Dec. 30, 2015, Montgomery Product Liability Lawyer Blog

Contact Information