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You May Be Liable Even When You’re Not In The Vehicle

You May Be Liable Even When You’re Not In The VehicleThis isn’t the type of case that we’ll ever to worry about here in Florida, but the circumstances behind it make it an excellent example of how negligence with motorized vehicles can occur in the most unexpected ways. Can you be sued for personal injury with a vehicle if you’re not even in the vehicle? One man in Canada found a way!

The Runaway Snowmobile

It’s generally understood by most Floridians that Canada can be incredibly cold during the winter, and become a literal “winter wonderland” when the season arrives. It’s one of the reasons why so many Canadians and Americans from New England buy winter residences in Florida and become “snowbirds” that live here during the less hospitable parts of the year.

In this case however, one Canadian by the name of Devon Webb, was enjoying a ride on a snowmobile with other members of his family and friends. He was alone on the snowmobile, and trailing behind his group, traveling at half-speed. Unfortunately, he hit a snow drift he didn’t see, and this jolted him from the snowmobile, causing him to land—more or less safely—on the ground, while the vehicle continued without him.

The snowmobile traveled the length of nine football fields before crashing into another member of the group, causing major injuries. Devon Webb was eventually taken to court for negligence that resulted in traumatic brain injury, permanent limp, loss of future earning capacity, and many other injuries and charges.

But why was Devon Webb in this case guilty of negligence? If he wasn’t even on the snowmobile at the time, how could he be responsible for what is clearly a case of bad circumstances lining up, where his runaway vehicle just happened to hit another member of the group and cause serious injuries?

Safety Measures Matter

The reason that a Canadian court found in favor of the plaintiff and that Webb lost this personal injury case is because of safety mechanisms. There is actually a safety device installed on modern snowmobiles to designed explicitly to prevent this kind of incident from occurring and Webb did not use it.

In this case, the safety mechanism is called a “tether cord,” and it is a simple cable system that connects a rider to the key in the vehicle. Should the rider get thrown from the vehicle, the tether cord would go with the rider, and thus pull the key from the snowmobile, deactivating, and eventually causing it to stop.

In court, it was found that Devon Webb did not use this safety feature and so, unfortunately for him, the worst case scenario occurred. Not only was he thrown from the vehicle, but his lack of using the safety mechanism meant the vehicle continued under its own power and eventually collided with someone else causing serious injury. Had Webb used the tether cord the way it was intended, there’s every chance that the vehicle would not have been able to travel the length of nine football fields before eventually crashing head on into someone else.

Everyday Common Sense

While we don’t have to worry in Florida about runaway snowmobiles under ordinary circumstances, this does illustrate a useful, sobering, legal lesson. Even when you aren’t present, with your vehicle, you still have a legal obligation to ensure the safety of that vehicle.

So, for example, a much more relatable case for Florida residents would be having an older, classic car in ownership. If you were to take an older car, without all the safety mechanisms of modern automobiles, and park it an incline, but then either forget, or deliberately ignore the parking brake, that leaves the car vulnerable. If anyone were to bump into the car, or the car itself were not properly parked to take into consideration the fact that it’s on a hill, if it should roll down the hill and hit someone’s property, pet, or even another person, you’ll be held responsible.

Just because you were not present when your vehicle got into an incident, that doesn’t mean you have no worries about legal culpability. You are expected to make full use of all safety mechanisms available to a vehicle, and if you do not, then this more firmly pushes the fault for any accident on your shoulders, especially if the reason was that you forgot, or simply didn’t feel like it. It may even be worse for you if the mechanism is damaged and you decide not to repair it.

Remember, fault in any auto accident personal injury case is about determining who made errors, or failed to take appropriate precautions for any given activity. Just walking away from a vehicle doesn’t mean you’re no longer responsible for what happens to it, or people around it. Always make sure that if you have safety features in a vehicle they are working, and you use them as and when intended.