Polaris Industries wants one judge to handle four lawsuits filed in Hennepin County by people who said they have been harmed by sudden vehicle fires in the company's all-terrain vehicles (ATV).
Polaris last month made the request in Hennepin County District Court for lawsuits filed between August 2017 and September 2018. The lawsuits accuse the ATV maker of product defects and negligence in regard to fires that injured 13 people in five states.
The company has recalled more than 400,000 vehicles in recent years because of defects causing the fires and other issues. In April, it settled a case with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission for a record $27.25 million in regard to the recall process.
The four Hennepin County lawsuits are in the hands of four different judges and involve sudden fires and injuries that allegedly occurred while plaintiffs drove various Polaris four-wheelers on trails in Utah, Nevada, Montana, West Virginia and New York.
The lawsuits all have different specifics. But they were filed by the same law firm — Salt Lake City-based Eisenberg Gilchrist & Cutt — and generally accuse the Medina-based manufacturer of knowingly selling defective vehicles and failing to warn customers and regulators in a timely manner that the vehicles were prone to fire hazards.
A Polaris spokeswoman on Wednesday declined to comment on the lawsuits or Polaris' consolidation request, citing the company's policy of not commenting about ongoing litigation.
But in court documents last month, Polaris denied the plaintiffs' allegations. In its request for one judge to hear the four cases, the company said discovery is underway in the lawsuits, and it does not make sense for multiple judges to study all the information and individually rule on overlapping legal issues that would apply to all the lawsuits.
"The overlap among the allegations show that plaintiffs' counsel view these actions as involving overlapping issues of fact," Polaris said in the documents. "Although the off-road vehicle models in each incident materially differ from each other, and each incident presents unique facts, plaintiffs … allege in each case similar factual allegations and essentially the same legal theories."
One of four lawsuits, filed in August 2017, involves the case of Montana resident Colby Thompson.
Thompson was severely burned on his face and body when the 2017 Polaris RZR he drove on a straight trail in Montana's Bridger Mountains caught fire in July 2017.
Another was filed in April 2018, by Art Ridgeway, four other adults and three children. That suit involved three separate vehicle fires that took place between September 2016 and August 2017 in New York, Utah and West Virginia. According to the lawsuit, the fires each ignited suddenly, destroying three different Polaris vehicles: a 2007 Ranger ESI, a 2017 Polaris RZR XP 1000, and a 2015 Polaris RZR 900. Two adults were burned in the incidents, the complaint said.
Plaintiff Michael Flamm sued Polaris in August for injuries suffered by himself and his child while riding a 2014 Polaris RZR XP 4 1000.
Trevor Atkinson and Summer Hardwick sued Polaris in September, alleging that they were burned when their 2015 Polaris RZR suddenly caught fire while on a Utah trail on July 4. They accuse Polaris of understaffing its quality and product-safety departments, designing thinly walled gas tanks, failing to properly fit gas tanks and of recalling problem vehicles late.
Atkinson and Hardwick's "RZR caught fire [and] within seconds caused the entire vehicle to become consumed in extremely hot flames," the lawsuit said.
It went on to say that Polaris had received reports of 40 similar vehicle fires causing 18 injuries between 1999 and 2001 and more reports of problems with fires in 2008, 2012 and 2015. The lawsuit listed several other cases of Polaris vehicle fires and injured riders in Utah, Nevada, California, Arizona and Montana.
"By April 19, 2016, Polaris had knowledge of more than 160 RZR fires, which had resulted in at least 19 injuries and the death of Baylee Hoaldridge, a teenage girl," the complaint said.
It also noted that in April 2016, Polaris recalled 133,000 RZR 900 and RZR 1000 models made between 2013 and 2016.
"Polaris has known that its system for reporting and communicating the hazards of fires involving Polaris off-road vehicles (ORVs) are deficient," the lawsuit said.
Polaris previously said it has restructured its quality control and design processes to ensure that new vehicles do not have the defects that led to recalls. In its latest quarterly report, it said warranty costs were down as it ends the process of investigating potential problems, beefing up quality inspections and repairing recalled vehicles.