A federal court in Colorado has denied a request for destructive testing of all-terrain vehicle (ATV) parts in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of a man who died while operating the ATV. Blackmore v. Polaris Indus., Inc., No. 10-00631 (U.S. Dist. Ct., D. Colo., filed July 21, 2011).

According to the court, the plaintiffs “allege that the ATV was defective, and as a result of its defects, the right front wheel attached to the front suspension and the steering linkage broke, causing the ATV to come to an abrupt stop,” thereby ejecting the decedent from the ATV. The ATV manufacturer contended, to the contrary, that the accident was caused by the decedent’s negligence, claiming that “he went over a non-perpendicular dip on a dirt trail,” lost control and rolled the ATV, which “came down on its right front wheel,” thus overloading the suspension and causing the suspension to fail. The defendant further claimed that the decedent, who was injured when the ATV rolled over him, had a pre-existing paraplegia condition that contributed to his loss of control of the ATV.

Apparently, the plaintiffs’ expert witness proposed “destructive testing of the ATV’s front suspension, ball joint housing, welds, and failed tube regions . . . to view and assess the nature of the welding defects and the tube misalignments.” The defendant objected to the request, claiming that testing the welds would be irrelevant because the lower control arm tubes did not break in the welds. The defendant also indicated that the proposed testing would directly affect its ability to effectively present evidence at trial, because the defendant “intends to show the jury all of the pieces of the lower control arm to allow the jury to understand the tremendous force applied to the lower control arm when the subject ATV rolled over.”

Noting that a request for destructive testing is within the court’s discretion, the court determined that, in this case, such testing was not necessary, it would hinder the defendant’s ability to present evidence to the jury, the plaintiffs have other evidence to support their theory, and photographs of the relevant ATV parts would not be adequate to minimize the prejudice to the defendant if it were unable to let the jury see the actual ATV and its parts.