Dewsnup, King, Olsen, Worel, Havas, Mortensen brings suit against Polaris for UTV fire which injured two Utah passengers, caused blaze over more than 100 acres

30 September 2016 Published in News

DKOW is representing Utah family members who were seriously burned while riding a Polaris RZR Model Utility Task Vehicle, suffering injuries that required skin grafts. The American Fork Canyon fire became so intense that the U.S. Forest Service made water and fire retardant drops on a blaze that spread to more than 100 acres. The fire was not an isolated occurrence, as there have more than 200 recent incidents of fire and burn hazards involving Polaris vehicles, including three deaths, and at least eight recalls by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in three and a half years, including four in 2016 alone.

In July this year, members of a Utah family were enjoying a Pioneer Day weekend recreational outing in American Fork Canyon while riding a Polaris RZR Model Utility Task Vehicle, unaware that the back seat was about to burst into flames. Two passengers – the mother and a six-year-old girl who was in strapped in the back seat – suffered serious burns that required skin grafts.

The fire, which engulfed the vehicle in flames, was so intense that helicopters and aircraft were brought in by the U.S. Forest Service to make water and fire retardant drops on the blaze that eventually burned more than 100 acres. Residents and other recreational enthusiasts also were evacuated from areas adjacent to the fire where the Major Evans Gulch intersects with the north fork of the American Fork Canyon. Only a quick response by rangers and firefighters prevented the blaze from expanding during one of Utah’s hottest, driest periods of the year.

Unfortunately, the fire on this particular Polaris XP Turbo four-seat 1000 model vehicle was not an isolated incident involving the manufacturer’s products. In the last three and a half years, there have been reports of more than 200 incidents of fire and burn hazards involving Polaris vehicles, including the death of a Utah teenager, and, most recently, the deaths of a Utah woman and an Arizona woman in a Polaris Ranger fire in southern Utah.

At least eight recalls within the three years and four in 2016 alone have been issued by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) on various Polaris RZR models. Tens of thousands of Polaris-made vehicles have been identified in these recalls.

Thirty-nine days after the American Fork Canyon fire, on September 1, a recall was issued for the RZR XP Turbo model. The day after the accident, Polaris had issued a stop-ride/stop-sale advisory on its 2016 RZR Turbo off-road vehicles, in anticipation of a formal recall notice. In fact, similar models of the vehicle involved in the most recent fire were targeted in a December 2015 recall.

“This terrifying fire and these burn injuries to completely innocent persons would never have occurred had Polaris acted responsibly earlier by recalling all potentially affected UTVs and correcting the underlying problems causing these fires in multiple models, over multiple years," Colin King, attorney and partner with the Dewsnup, King, Olsen and Worel law firm in Salt Lake City, explains. King and his colleague Peter Summerill are representing the family in a product liability lawsuit against Polaris Industries, Inc., which is based in Medina, Minnesota.

Every recall on a Polaris vehicle has identified a potentially significant fire and/or burn hazardous risk. To summarize, the CPSC has issued the following recalls since June 19, 2013 on many of Polaris’ recreational off-highway vehicles (ROV):

  • June 19, 2013: Fire and burn hazard: The firewall behind the driver and passenger seats can overheat and melt. Polaris Ranger RZR XP 900 ROV (2011 model year), 4,500 units. The firm received one report of an incident involving a consumer who received burn injuries to a finger.
  • July 23, 2015: Fire hazard: The vehicle's fuel pump retaining ring can leak. Polaris Youth RZR ROV (2015 model year), 4,300 units.
  • Oct. 6, 2015: Fire hazard: The vehicles' fuel tank vent line can be misrouted, causing it to become pinched. This can cause the fuel tank to pressurize and leak fuel. Polaris RZR ROV in the 900 and 1000 series (2015 model year, including a non-turbo version of the model type vehicle involved in the American Fork Canyon fire), 53,000 units.
  • December 10, 2015: Fire hazard: The vehicles' oil drain line can leak. Polaris RZR XP Turbo (2016 model year), 2,230 units. Polaris has received two reports of RZR XP Turbos with oil leaks and two reports of the vehicles catching on fire.
  • April 19, 2016: Fire hazard: The recalled ROVs can catch fire while consumers are driving, posing fire and burn hazards to drivers and passengers. Polaris RZR ROV in the 900 and 1000 series (2013-2016 model years). Polaris has received more than 160 reports of fires with the recalled RZR ROVs, resulting in one death of a 15-year-old passenger (in Utah) from a rollover that resulted in a fire and 19 reports of injuries, including first-, second- and third-degree burns.
  • June 28, 2016: Fire hazard: The ROVs can overheat during heavy engine loading, slow-speed intermittent use and/or high outdoor temperatures and catch fire. Polaris Ranger 570 ROV (2015-2016 model years), 53,000 units. Polaris has received seven reports of the recalled ROVs overheating and catching on fire
  • September, 1 2016: Fire hazard: The vehicles' engine can overheat and turbo system’s drain tube can loosen. Polaris RZR XP Turbo and RZR XP 4 Turbo ROV, 13,000 (2016 model year and including the 2,230 vehicles previously recalled in December 2015.) Polaris has received 19 reports of the ROVs catching on fire, resulting in six reports of burn injuries. This includes the July 24 fire in American Fork Canyon.
  • September 15, 2016: Fire and burn hazard: The heat shield can fall off the vehicle. Polaris Ranger XP 900, XP 900 EPS, and CREW 900 (2014 model year), 42,500 units. Polaris has received 36 reports of the recalled ROVs overheating and catching on fire, including reports of three minor burns and one sprained wrist.

King says Polaris' response has been unacceptable, given the extent and the accelerating frequency of these recalls that consistently identify hazardous risks of fire and burn injuries in accidents. Polaris should be called upon to answer why the manufacturer has not only failed at addressing the core faults and flaws of these vehicles but also has not fulfilled its post-sale obligations to inform and warn consumers of these dangerous risks, he adds. "The dangers experienced certainly would have been eliminated had the manufacturer (Polaris) not ignored its basic duty to provide information, warn consumers and halt sales of these vehicles until the problems have been fully resolved," King explains. "The fire hazards are not limited to one model or to a single model year. The recalls indicate that the problem is being found at an alarming frequency across the manufacturer’s entire line of RZR recreational outdoor vehicles."

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