ATV Death Results in Million-Dollar Lawsuit
Ever since their 13-year-old daughter Sara was killed when she drove a friend’s ATV into a tree, Duane and Cathy Hennarichs wanted to save other children from a similar fate.
A Palm Beach County jury helped their cause on Friday, finding that the family that owned the four-wheeler Sara rode to her death in September 2003 was negligent and ordered them to pay the Hennarichses $3.6 million. The suburban Boca Raton couple said they are hopeful the jury’s verdict will spur other ATV owners to realize the perils of letting youngsters ride the vehicles alone.
“We just wanted to make parents realize how dangerous these machines are and that they shouldn’t be entrusted to young children without their supervision,” Duane Hennarichs said of the lengthy legal battle he and his wife waged since their middle daughter’s death. “This was done for Sara,” said Cathy Hennarichs, who plans to lobby more actively for tougher regulation via the group Concerned Families for ATV Safety. “She’s going to be saving children, and that’s important to me.”
John Richards, a Fort Lauderdale attorney who represented Roger and Karen Fina and their son Nicolas, now 17, in the weeklong trial, said he disagreed with the jury’s verdict, but no decision has been made as to whether it would be appealed.
“This was a tragic and unfortunate accident that involved good families and good kids,” he said.
The Hennarichses claimed that the accident could have been avoided if the Finas had simply heeded the warning stickers on the ATV. The stickers clearly stated that the ATV shouldn’t be driven by any one under the age of 16, and that no one should ride with a passenger.
Sara, an eighth-grader at Eagles Landing Middle School in suburban Boca Raton, had borrowed Nicolas’ ATV and was riding with another youth when she lost control of the vehicle and was thrown headfirst into a tree in the gated Tierra Del Rey North community. She died of head injuries three hours later at Delray Medical Center. The other youth sustained minor injuries.