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Montana Supreme Court Finds Injured ATV Rider May Sue State DOT Over Roadway – Fasch v. M.K. Weeden

By October 26, 2011July 10th, 2019ATV Accidents, Auto Accidents

As a Missouri ATV accident attorney, I write here a lot about the dangers of ATVs. These are off-road vehicles used for entertainment or getting around large farms and ranches, and despite being motor vehicles, they are not subject to nearly the same regulations as roadworthy cars and trucks. However, one area where both classes of vehicle may be treated the same, at least in Montana, is liability of those who build and maintain roads for hazardous conditions that cause a crash. That was the issue in Fasch v. M.K. Weeden Construction et al., a Montana Supreme Court decision stemming from a single-vehicle ATV accident on U.S. Highway 59. The court ultimately ruled that the case should be decided by trial, not summary judgment.
Walter Fasch was using a three-wheeled ATV to bring some fresh produce to a friend, which obligated him to use Highway 59. The highway was under construction at the time, with traffic routed onto pavement while another part of the road was dirt. On his way home, Fasch’s ATV rolled over several times and ended up right-side up in the dirt part of the road. He testified that he was on the edge of the paved part of the road and encountered a small hole in the pavement that tipped over the ATV. The defendants testified that evidence showed Fasch was on the dirt part of the road, which was closed to traffic, when he hit the hole. Fasch ultimately drove the ATV back to Hirsch’s house and sought help for a punctured lung, broken rib and other injuries. Fasch sued the state Department of Transportation and two private contractors working on the construction. The trial court ultimately granted summary judgment to defendants, finding that Fasch was driving on the dirt when the accident took place.
On appeal, the Montana Supreme Court reversed that ruling, finding that the case poses genuine issues of material fact. It found that the trial court improperly relied on the fact that ATV tracks were found on the dirt portion of the road to conclude that Fasch was lying about having started out on pavement. This would make him ineligible for compensation because he would have been breaking the law by using the dirt portion of the road. However, the court said, that evidence was not documented with anything other than a diagram and witness testimony. Fasch had the same evidence to back up his version of events, which was that the one set of tracks was created when he drove back to Hirsch’s house, and that if he’d been on the dirt to start with, there would be two sets. A reasonable jury could accept that version, the high court found. Thus, the dispute here should be resolved by a full trial, not on summary judgment, it ruled, sending the case back down to trial court.
As a southern Illinois auto accident lawyer, I strongly agree that the evidence, as presented in this opinion, should get a fuller airing. Dangerous roadways don’t just affect ATVs, though ATVs may roll over more easily than most cars and trucks. People in ordinary cars and trucks can also get into serious accidents when dangerous conditions go unfixed. These include construction-related problems, like those in this case, as well as intersections that lack a needed traffic signal, debris in the roadway, vegetation blocking road signs, roads that create dangerous “blind curves” and more. These problems are generally the responsibility of the government entity responsible for building or maintaining the roadway, and sometimes also of construction contractors. This kind of lawsuit can be more time-sensitive and intricate than a case against a private party, so I recommend that potential plaintiffs contact our St. Louis defective roadway attorneys as early as possible.

Carey, Danis & Lowe represents clients who were seriously injured or lost a loved one in a crash caused by someone else’s carelessness. If you’d like to learn more or tell us about your case, send us a message through our website or call 1-877-678-3400 today.
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