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Minn.-Based Polaris Faces Legal Action For ATV Safety Hazards

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Minnesota-based ATV manufacturer Polaris is facing multiple lawsuits alleging the company did not take proper steps to prevent its vehicles from overheating and catching fire, among other safety offenses.

In April 2018, three plaintiffs, James Bruner of Alabama, Michael Zeeck of Illinois and Ed Beattie of Nebraska brought forth a class-action lawsuit against Polaris in U.S. District Court. The lawsuit alleges Polaris, which is headquartered in Medina, Minnesota, did not properly address the fire hazards present in its RZR and Ranger vehicles.

Polaris has recalled multiple models since 2013 after fires caused by malfunction caused at least three deaths and many more injuries, according to the lawsuit. But the plaintiffs allege Polaris did not get at the "root problem" by doing so. The lawsuit claims the real issue stems from the vehicles' "ProStar" engines, which produce more power than its competitors.

"The true cause of the fire hazard is a design defect that is common to all of the Class Vehicles. The Class Vehicles are equipped with an unusually high-powered 'ProStar' engine that is tucked directly behind the occupant compartment. The ProStar engine produces more power than the engines in competing vehicles and, accordingly, more heat," the lawsuit reads.

While the three men themselves did not suffer injuries related to the vehicles, they are claiming monetary loss from purchasing the defective products.

Polaris motioned the judge to dismiss this case in July, stating the claims made by the plaintiffs are not legally grounded, but the case remains ongoing.

Around the time the class-action lawsuit was filed, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced Polaris had agreed to pay more than $27 million in civil penalties after the company failed to disclose defects with the RZR and Ranger models.

James Bingham and the family of deceased Steven Groves recently filed another lawsuit against Polaris after a RZR vehicle the two were driving in Idaho in May caught fire. Bingham, who sustained serious burns, tried to help Groves out of the vehicle. But Groves died within hours of being transferred to a hospital in Salt Lake City.

This lawsuit and other claims against Polaris are also outlined in a Friday New York Times article.

Two more plaintiffs argued Polaris failed to disclose important safety information. In early August, Paul Guzman and Jeremy Albright, both of California, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, alleging Polaris falsely claimed its safety systems complied with Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards.

In response to these reports, Polaris released to following statement to WCCO:

The allegations, inferences and claims made in the New York Times article against Polaris are, we believe, misleading, lack full context and, at times, are simply inaccurate. Many of the allegations made within the article are drawn from materials that come directly from pending litigation, and we plan to respond accordingly in the proper legal forum.

Polaris employees, from our senior leaders to our assembly workers on the line, put our riders at the center of our vehicle designs. With them in mind, we take measures to comprehensively and proactively address safety and quality across the board, which includes vehicle design and assembly, a methodical review of warranty claims, and customer issues for vehicles that have left our control. We have invested, and continue to invest, heavily in safety.

For example:

    • Polaris vehicles undergo an extensive and rigorous product development process.
    • We've centralized our safety and analysis organization, with our Vice President of Global Product Safety and Quality reporting directly to our CEO.
    • We have enhanced our post-sale field and vehicle operational surveillance processes, enabling a consistent review of extensive and diverse data sets to quickly identify and address issues that may emerge with vehicle use patterns, incidents and mechanical failures.
    • While our ultimate goal is to prevent quality and safety issues from arising altogether, when an issue is identified, we are proactive and vigilant about the solution – including moving to recall the products and get our customers back to safe riding.
    • Insights and learnings from past recalls are incorporated back into our quality control and testing to prevent future issues.
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