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TBI Victim Thrown from ATV due to Company’s Irresponsible Designs

Grinding is the last sound motor vehicle operators want to hear while driving. That’s especially true with high-risk automotives like motorcycles or all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). Unfortunately, an ATV manufacturer’s faulty design led one rider to hear grinding noises from his right front wheel. Suddenly, the ATV rolled out of control. It ejected the rider, causing a catastrophic, life-altering traumatic brain injury (TBI).

 The rider was a 28-year-old avid outdoorsman. He was a husband, a dad to a toddler with a second child on the way, and an experienced ATV driver. As he rode his ATV one evening, he heard scraping coming from the front of the ATV. As he leaned forward to identify the cause, the front right wheel tucked under itself, dragging the ATV to the right and causing it to flip. The vehicle went into a barrel roll, launching the rider 40 feet in the air. While he survived, the brain injury the rider sustained dramatically impacted his quality of life.

 That’s when Robert V. Phillips of McGowan, Hood, Felder & Phillips, LLC got a call from the victim’s father. Robert and fellow attorney Chad McGowan got to work investigating the case, but they were stumped. They had no clue how or why the vehicle had flipped. However, they knew the answers they sought lay deeper in the details of the machinery.

 Robert and Chad’s team purchased several of the same model of ATVs involved in the accident. They hired a litany of metallurgists, structural engineers, and other experts. They tested different theories on the vehicles and examined not just what happened, but why. After over a year of testing, they discovered a defect in the ball joint mechanism that the ATV manufacturer used in its vehicles. The flawed design caused wear on the wheel mechanisms, and was documented across internet forums, social media feeds, and dozens of denied warranty claims. Moreover, in 2018, the company retooled its ATVs to quietly fix the defect without fanfare.

 Robert and Chad knew even the best explanation would sound like mechanical nonsense to a prospective jury; they needed a visual aid to show the design intricacies. The team went to DK Global to work on a video that demonstrated exactly what was wrong with the vehicle, how the defect caused the accident, and how it could have been avoided.

 The video began with a 3D animation of the ATV’s cast metal steering knuckle before installation into the wheel. Next, a drill bored a hole at the curved point of the knuckle where a ball joint assembly connected the wheel to the front suspension. Yellow arrows and a red box depicted how the curve caused a slight shift of the drill. The borehole needed to be perfectly round to house a screw. However, the shifting drill made the hole oblong and weakened. Red boxes indicated the intended and the actual sizes of the borehole. The video proceeded to an animation of the ATV and a diagram of the defective wheel area. The video walked through the construction of the wheel at the ball joint and demonstrated how the screw rattled in the borehole when the vehicle moved, causing wear over time. The video showed how that wear led the mechanism to fall apart. Next, the animation depicted how the screw and bolt were supposed to function. Last, the video concluded with a demonstration of the alternative designs that would have prevented the accident.

 When the case first came to the Defense’s attention, they paid it little attention. They were prepared to pay a small sum to make the case go away, but Robert and Chad knew his client deserved better. After discovering the design and manufacturing defects in the ATV, they were sure that the ATV company would want to negotiate. However, when the Defense saw the animation, they begrudgingly entered negotiations with Robert and Chad. After a particularly difficult mediation, the duo secured a $5,800,000 settlement for their client.

 Robert V. Phillips is a personal injury attorney at McGowan, Hood, Felder & Phillips, LLC, a large plaintiffs firm with offices throughout South Carolina. His practice focuses on medical malpractice, complex products litigation, and civil rights. He currently serves on the Executive Committee for the South Carolina Association for Justice, and has been voted one of the Top 100 Lawyers in South Carolina. He’s a fierce advocate for his clients and has settled many cases for over $1M.

 Chad McGowan is a founding partner of McGowan, Hood, Felder & Phillips, LLC. He represents those who have been catastrophically injured, especially by physicians, hospitals, and commercial vehicle operators. The only South Carolina attorney with three medical malpractice verdicts in excess of $10 million, Chad has been recognized as a South Carolina Super Lawyer every year since 2009. In addition, he is a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA), the South Carolina Association for Justice, and the American Association for Justice.

"Don't tell them what happened. Show them what happened. And in a lot of cases, the only way you can do that is through video animation."
Robert Phillips – McGowan, Hood, Felder & Phillips, LLC
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