Yamaha Rhino Victim Awarded $317,002

A Georgia State Court jury just awarded $317,002 to a Georgia couple as compensation for injuries suffered when the husband’s leg became trapped under his <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/yamaha_rhino_rollover">Yamaha Rhino off-road vehicle. Law.com reported that a plaintiffs lawyer said the Gwinnett County case is the first of many product liability cases against Yamaha in the United States and Canada that alleges defects in the Yamaha Rhino recreational utility vehicle.

Off-highway and off-road vehicles are involved in hundreds of accidents annually and we have been following this issue for some time. Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommended it set mandatory rules to “regulate recreational off-highway vehicles,” such as the Rhino.

The case of Roger McTaggart, who sustained injuries from an accident in 2007, was tried first from among what Law.com described as dozens of such cases filed in Gwinnet, because it was considered, a “middle-of-the-road case,” and it would better reveal all of the cases’ viability because McTaggart neither lost his leg nor broke it, yet the case was won. The cases were filed in Gwinnet since Yamaha Motor Corporation USA’s registered agent is located in Gwinnett County, said Law.com.

According to McTaggart’s complaint, said Law.com, he was driving his Yamaha Rhino, stopped, began moving forward as he turned the steering wheel right, “and the Rhino tipped onto the driver’s side, trapping his leg under the vehicle.” As a result, McTaggart suffered a “crush” injury that involved his skin exploding and his bone becoming exposed, wrote Law.com.

Off-highway vehicles, or ROVs, are typically outfitted with at least four low-pressure tires and seat at least one person. ROVs are generally meant for recreation and are new to the market, but have been a huge seller with over 416,000 in use at year-end 2008, according to a prior Wall Street Journal article. In 2003, less than 45,000 ROVs were in use. With the rise in sales, however, came a correlative increase in ROV accidents with 181 taking place since 2003 and until this August with 152 injuries and 116 fatalities, said the Journal, citing CPSC data. Of concern is that ROVs are not required to follow the same safety standards that are in place for ATVs—all-terrain vehicles—which have been on the market longer, said the Journal.

Poor design and regulation have been blamed for the rising toll on ROV rider injury and death with speed, the large size of the vehicles, and their propensity to rollovers, among cited problems, said Reuters previously. Recreational vehicles, such as the Yamaha Rhino, have been linked to a high number of accident and death reports, as well as a high number of product liability suits. Critics allege the Yamaha Rhino is even more likely to be involved in deadly rollover accidents, saying that the Rhino is top heavy and has tires that are extremely narrow.

Allegedly, these design defects make it far more likely that the Yamaha Rhino will tip and rollover while going through a turn, even when the vehicle is traveling at a slow speed and is on a flat surface. Critics also charge that the Rhino is designed in such a way that passengers’ legs are unprotected in the event of a rollover accident. Over 100,000 Rhinos have been recalled over design defect issues.

McTaggart and his wife, Glenda, sued three different Yamaha corporate entities in Gwinnett County State Court claiming that the Rhino should have been outfitted with a barrier that contains rider’s legs in the vehicle, said Law.com. The trial took two weeks and the jury deliberated for about 10 hours, explained Law.com, when the jury awarded the $317,002 for pain and suffering, medical expenses, lost wages, future lost wages, and—for Glenda—loss of consortium. Of specific note, the jury was concerned that Yamaha never performed testing on the Rhino that would be specific to “occupant containment,” saying that this was an issue Yamaha should have looked into and, had it, would have seen the problem, explained Law.com

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