Ranch ATV Accident Results in Lawsuit - Texas Agriculture Law (2024)

Posted on July 8, 2024 by tiffany.dowell

When a teenager was killed while riding in an ATV owned by Blackjack Ranch, was the Ranch liable for his death? This was the question before the court inMitschke v. Borromeo.


Justin Behrens worked as the foreman and sole employee of Blackjack Ranch (Ranch). The Ranch was owned by Marida Favia del Core Borromeo (Marida). The Ranch and Marida owned a Polaris Ranger ATV.

On April 2017, the ATV was parked at Justin’s house. Justin’s 16-year-old son, Bristen, and two of his 16 year-old friends took the ATV out to go fishing. Bristen drove the ATV off of Blackjack’s property onto a neighbor’s land. The boys fished, and then Bristen drove the ATV to a muddy area where he turned the steering wheel and accelerated in an attempt to make the ATV spin in circles. The ATV overturned and Cody was killed.

Cody’s family filed a wrongful death suit and survivor claims against Marida and Blackjack Ranch. The family claimed the Defendants negligently entrusted the ATV to Bristen and negligently trained and supervised Bristen.

The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of the Defendants. Cody’s family appealed.

Appellate Court Decision

The Amarillo Court of Appeals affirmed. [Read Opinion here.]

Negligent Training and Supervision

The key question in a negligent hiring, training, and supervision is whether the defendant owed a legal duty to the injured party. Generally, there is no duty to control the conduct of a third party. There is an exception, however, where a “special relationship” exists. In situations with employer-employee or parent-child relationships, there may be a duty imposed to aid or protect others.

Cody’s family argued that prior to the accident, Bristen worked for Blackjack Ranch. There was, however, no evidence to support this. Instead, the record showed Justin was the Ranch’s only employee. Further, although there was certainly a parent-child relationship between Justin and Bristen, there was no such parent-child relationship between Bristen and Marida or the Ranch.

Further, the court noted even if Bristen was a ranch employee, there was no connection between his employment and the activity that caused Cody’s death. Instead, the fishing trip was a personal task unrelated to ranch business meaning no duty existed.

The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of this claim.

Negligent Entrustment

To establish negligent entrustment, Cody’f family was required to show: (1) the Defendants entrusted the ATV to Bristen; (2) Bristen was an unlicensed, incompetent, or reckless driver; (3) the Defendants knew or should have known that Bristen was an unlicensed, incompetent, or reckless driver; (4) Bristen was negligent on the occasion in question; and (5) Bristen’s negligence proximately caused the accident.

The court focused on the third element, whether Defendants knew or should have known that Bristen was an unlicensed, incompetent, or reckless driver. This can be proven by facts like prior negligence, lack of experience, age, and lack of formal training.

Here, Bristen’s only traffic citation was for an expired registration. Cody’s father testified he had told Bristen to slow down when driving two or three times two years prior to the day of the accident. Justin also testified a 16 year-old driver takes more risks than a 43 year-old driver.

The court held this evidence was insufficient to prove the Defendants knew or should have known that Bristen was an incompetent or reckless driver. Evidence that Cody’s father said Bristen was driving too fast two years prior to the accident “offers nothing more than his personal belief that Bristen had negligently used the ATV.” Further, Justin’s belief that 16 year-olds take more risks than 43 year-olds does not support the conclusion Bristen was reckless or incompetent, or the Defendants knew or should have known this fact.

Thus, this claim was also dismissed.

Key Takeaways

This case raises a couple of key points to consider.

  1. It is important for vehicle owners (including ATV owners) to understand they do potentially owe a duty for the actions of their employees or children using the vehicle. While the court found no special relationship between Bristen and the Defendants, here, in a case where such a relationship did exist, the analysis might be different. Taking care to ensure proper training and supervision with vehicles is crucial.
  2. Note that here the neighboring landowner on whose property the accident occurred was not named as a defendant in this case. Had he been named, he likely could have relied on either the Texas Recreational Use Statute and/or the Texas Agritourism Act to defend himself from liability. All landowners should take the time to understand the protections offered by this statute and take the steps necessary for them to apply. [Read more here in Chapter 5).
Ranch ATV Accident Results in Lawsuit - Texas Agriculture Law (2024)
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