Michigan Snowmobile Accident Lawyers
Recreational snowmobiling is a rite of passage in Michigan. Since the second half of the twentieth century, people in our state have been trail riding, boondocking, and ditch-banging their way across the Michigan winter snowscape. It’s a fun pastime, but it can also lead to accidents, injuries, and even fatalities at high rates of speed. When a loved one is injured in a snowmobile accident, your family may face unexpected medical bills, time off from work, disability, or even death. When you aren’t sure where to turn for help, an experienced Michigan snowmobile accident attorney can help.
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How Common are Snowmobile Accidents?
More than two million people enjoy snowmobiling across the U.S. each year, making it one of the more popular American winter sports. But because snowmobiles can travel at more than 90 mph and weigh more than 600 pounds, injuries, sometimes serious, can happen.
Snowmobiling in Michigan
There are more than 200,000 registered snowmobiles in Michigan, more than 6,500 groomed snowmobile trails across the state, and 110 snowmobile clubs. We can track the number and severity of snowmobile accidents in Michigan because all snowmobilers must report accidents involving injuries, fatalities, and property damage totaling more than $100 to the police in their county.
In 2020, Michigan had 14 fatal snowmobile accidents and 12 in 2021. For the 2021-2022 season, there were 11 fatalities. Although the sport is safer overall these days, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources reported in 2010 that 578 people had died in Michigan snowmobile crashes since the 1992-1993 season.
What Causes Snowmobile Crashes?
Some of the most common causes of snowmobile accidents include:
- Unfamiliarity with snowmobile machines,
- Driver inexperience or horsing around,
- Mechanical malfunctions,
- Being struck by a car or other motor vehicle while crossing roadways or bridges,
- Unfamiliarity with the trail or terrain,
- Riding on unmarked trails,
- Unexpected turns or corners on trails,
- Fallen trees or branches on the trail,
- Hidden obstacles,
- Riding on lakes, ponds, or streams that aren’t fully frozen,
- Weather conditions, and
- Not wearing proper safety equipment like a helmet.
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What Should I Do Immediately After a Snowmobile Wreck?
If you’re involved in a snowmobile accident, first determine if anyone needs medical attention and call 911. If possible, try to document the scene, including the condition of the snowmobile and any other involved vehicles, the trail and weather conditions, and any hidden obstacles or trail features that may have contributed to the accident. You should also get a copy of the police report and note any witnesses’ names and contact information. If you need medical attention, be sure that you keep copies of your medical records and bills.
Typical Injuries from Snowmobiling
If you’re injured in a snowmobile accident, you should see a doctor as soon as possible to ensure you get proper treatment and document your injuries. Some common injuries from snowmobile accidents include:
- Traumatic brain injuries like concussions and closed head injuries that may impair cognitive function and behavior,
- Spinal cord injuries, including paralysis, quadriplegia, and paraplegia,
- Orthopedic injuries like broken bones and fractures,
- Herniated or bulging discs in the neck or back,
- Facial injuries, broken or lost teeth, jaw injuries, broken facial bones, and eye injuries,
- Shoulder and knee injuries like ligament tears and torn rotator cuffs,
- Fractured ribs, and
Filing a Lawsuit for a Michigan Snowmobile Accident
Determining whether you should file a lawsuit in your snowmobile injury case can be daunting, but you don’t have to make this decision alone. A consultation with an experienced Michigan personal injury attorney, well-versed in handling snowmobile accident claims, can help. A lawyer can evaluate your case and damages and help you decide if you should pursue your claims.
To recover from a snowmobile injury, you must show that the other party was negligent and that the negligence was a direct cause of your injuries. The elements you’ll need to prove include:
- The defendant owed you a duty of care. We all owe one another a reasonable duty of care not to act carelessly or recklessly.
- The defendant failed to meet their duty of care.
- You wouldn’t have been injured if the defendant had met their duty of care.
- The defendant’s failure to meet that duty of care was a proximate cause of your injuries.
- You were injured and suffered some loss.
If you’re injured in a snowmobile accident, you may be entitled to economic and non-economic damages.
- Economic Damages: These damages include financial losses you’ve suffered from the crash, including medical bills, rehabilitation expenses, property damage, lost wages, and other related expenses.
- Non-economic Damages: These damages include compensation for pain and suffering such as physical pain, emotional suffering, anguish, fright, permanent scars, or disabilities.
- Comparative Negligence
In Michigan, negligence laws follow a “comparative fault” structure. If a court finds you are partially liable for the accident, the court may reduce your settlement in kind. For example, if you receive a $50,000 award at trial and the court finds that you are 50% liable for the accident, your final settlement will be $25,000. However, it is necessary to prove that the other party was more than 50% at fault to recover non-economic damages.
- Wrongful Death
In some cases, if you’ve lost a loved one in a snowmobile accident, you may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit in addition to negligence claims. To prove wrongful death, you’ll need to show four elements, including:
- Duty: The defendant owed your loved one a duty of care.
- Breach: The defendant breached that duty through negligence or a wrongful act.
- Causation: The negligent or wrongful act caused your loved one’s death in whole or in part.
- Damages: Your family suffered damages or loss because of your loved one’s death.
Damages from a wrongful death suit can include:
- Medical expenses,
- Funeral and burial costs,
- Physical and emotional pain suffered by your loved one before death,
- Loss of companionship and society, and
- Loss of financial support.
Snowmobile Accidents Involving Vehicles
Michigan is a “no-fault” state for car accidents. This means that when you’re in a crash involving your vehicle, each driver’s insurance will cover their insured regardless of fault. However, a snowmobile is not a vehicle typically covered by the Michigan no-fault law. But if your snowmobile accident also involves a car or another type of motor vehicle, the no-fault standard may apply. Whether this standard applies will largely depend on the specific facts and circumstances of your accident. The law here is nuanced, and it’s a good idea to consult an experienced Michigan snowmobile injury attorney to determine who may be liable for your damages.
Snowmobile Laws in Michigan
Michigan laws do place some restrictions on snowmobile drivers in the state.
You can ride your snowmobile on your private property, or someone else’s with their consent, on public highways in the right-of-way in a single file line, or crossing a roadway, bridge, or culvert if you yield to traffic and drive at a right angle to the road.
- Alcohol or Drugs:
Operating a snowmobile under the influence of drugs or a controlled substance is illegal with harsh penalties under Michigan law.
There is no definitive speed limit for snowmobiles in Michigan. But you must drive at a reasonable speed for the conditions, weather, and terrain. If a snowmobile driver fails to follow these guidelines, they can be liable for an accident.
- Equipment and Safety Standards:
You must also follow the equipment and safety standards set by Michigan law, including:
- Brakes: Your snowmobile must have special brakes that allow you to stop within 40 feet when traveling 20 mph.
- Lights: Your snowmobile should have working headlights and taillights, and they should be working at all times while you’re operating the snowmobile.
- Helmets: You must wear a helmet approved for snowmobiling by the Michigan Department of Transportation.
- Registration: You must register your snowmobile with the Michigan Secretary of State and display your registration on the snowmobile.
- Trail Permit: Before snowmobiling on a trail, you must get a trail permit and display your permit on the snowmobile directly beneath the headlight.
- License: You don’t need a driver’s license to operate a snowmobile in Michigan. However, if the state suspends your license, it is illegal to operate a snowmobile. You could face criminal charges for violating this law.
- Safety Certificate: Children between the ages of 12 and 17 who don’t have a valid driver’s license should get a snowmobile safety certificate or be supervised by an adult over 21. An adult should supervise children under 12 at all times unless they’re on property that you control or own.
Preventing Snowmobile Accidents
Michigan snowmobilers can follow some safety guidelines and recommendations to prevent snowmobile accidents, including:
- Travel at safe speeds,
- Don’t use drugs or alcohol before or while snowmobiling,
- Wear protective clothing,
- Don’t allow children under 16 to operate a snowmobile or ensure they’ve obtained a safety certificate and continue supervising them,
- Don’t carry more than one passenger, and
- Take care when crossing roadways.
Average Settlement for a Snowmobile Accident Case
The amount of settlement you might receive for a snowmobile injury can vary widely depending on the circumstances of the case, including whether someone was negligent and whether you share partial liability for the accident. If you recover damages, your award may be paid by an insurance company, the defendant or defendants, or a combination of these. You will typically receive a check issued by your law firm.
Why You Need a Snowmobile Accident Lawyer
If you or a loved one suffered an injury or death during a snowmobile crash, you could face serious financial consequences, including medical bills, lost wages, rehabilitation expenses, pain and suffering, and property damage. An experienced Michigan snowmobile lawyer can evaluate your claim and help you document your expenses and damages, and even negotiate with insurance companies. If necessary, a skilled personal injury lawyer can pursue your claim in court to ensure you get the recovery you deserve.