$7.5M lawsuit after Jeep rolls on dunes

GOLDEN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A man who suffered disabling injuries while driving a rented Jeep on lakeshore dunes is suing for millions, saying the Jeep rental company failed to train him to drive on sand and to inform him of the dangers.

On Parrot's Landing's website, videos describe the pulse-pounding fun that can be had driving a Jeep around the Silver Lake sand dunes near Hart.

“Our hills, the tallest one out there can reach 375 feet straight up in the air. The adrenaline rush of a roller coaster and you’re in control," an employee explains.

Many customers agree.

“It was fun. We had a great time. It is quite an experience," Len Eister of Portage, who rode the dunes Thursday with his grandson, said. “They gave us a lot of real good instructions to start with and we followed them to a tee and it paid off.”

But John Ross, a family practice doctor who lives in suburban Chicago, had a much different experience while vacationing along the lakeshore last August.

"My life has been absolutely ruined, completely changed," Ross told 24 Hour News 8 over the phone Thursday. "I’m unable to do anything, really.”

On a cloudy Aug. 4, Ross, his 16-year-old son and their friends decided to put down $249 for the Jeep rental, which included an hour of guided time followed by an hour on their own to do what they wished. Ross was driving the Jeep when, according to police reports, it crested a steep dune too fast and went airborne. The Jeep came down on its front.

“Then we rolled over and I shattered my cervical spine,” Ross explained.

He was airlifted to his hospital, Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Illinois, where he stayed for three weeks and underwent multiple procedures. He had multiple fractures and compressions that left him incapacitated and unable to return to his practice. He's not sure if he'll ever be able to go back to work.

Ross said he is an extraordinarily cautious person and he was doing what he was told, which he says was to gun the engine to get to the top of the hill.

“They market and advertise this as a safe, fun, family-friendly activity and they hide this incredible history of rollovers from those customers," Grand Rapids attorney Stephen Hulst of Rhoades McKee P.C. said.

The attorneys representing Ross used the Freedom of Information Act to get Michigan Department of Natural Resources crash reports that show Ross was the ninth Parrot’s Landing customer involved in a Jeep rollover since 2012, the third in three consecutive days and the second in two days on the same hill. During that same period, there were 21 crashes involving Jeeps or ATVs from Parrot’s Landing or its affiliated company Wild Bill’s.

The attorneys say there just isn’t enough training for people to be trusted with a Jeep on the dunes.

The suit filed in Grand Rapids federal court argues the business is violating Michigan law in regard to a lack of safety measures for customers and that it engaged in fraud by advertising the activity as safe and suitable for the whole family. The lawsuit seeks $7.5 million.

Ross says the whole business model should be done away with.

“I would love to see this operation never to exist anywhere up there," he said.

A representative of Parrot's who did not want to go on camera Thursday said it is a "mom and pop operation" that rents more than 5,000 vehicles during its yearly four-month season. He said if people follow the rules, which include not getting air in the vehicles, they can have a fun and safe experience.

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