Court reinstates product liability claim against Arctic Cat, after death of two women snowmobilers on Mackinac Island
The Mackinac Circuit Court judge granted summary disposition of two cases filed against Arctic Cat, after two women rode the sled off the west bluff of Mackinac Island in 2010. The women, sisters, were apparently attempting a "Y" turn when they lost control of the sled and backed over the bluff. After reconstructing the incident, both investigators and product experts disagreed on what happened. While at least one first responder saw evidence of only one "stop" in the Y turn, another investigator was certain he had identified two. One product expert evaluated the evidence and concluded that the driver of the sled had shifted it into forward, but not completely, and when she accelerated the machine went backwards without warning. He argued that the shifting and reverse warning on the sled were defectively designed.
The Defendants' experts argued that reverse warnings are intended to serve bystanders, not the operator of a snowmobile and that in any event, the women's families' experts were mistaken in assuming that the shift lever had not been jostled in the fall from the bluff. The trial judge concluded that it would require too much speculation to find in favor of the women's families and granted summary disposition. On appeal, the higher court noted that the trial judge should not have assumed that the investigator who saw two attempted turns was mistaken, and therefore the judge erred in granting summary disposition without recognizing the conflict in the evidence.