By: Staff Writers | Published: February 24th, 2011
A wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of a 10-year-old girl who died in a Yamaha Rhino ATV accident is scheduled to go to trial on Monday in Ohio.
The Yamaha Rhino lawsuit was filed by the family of Ellie Sand, who died in October 2007 after she was thrown from one of the four wheel all-terrain vehicles (ATV). Sand and her family were at a church picnic when the accident occurred. The lawsuit, brought by John and Tammie Sands names Yamaha, Clinton County Motor Sports and Let It Gro LLC as defendants.
Shortly after the Yamaha Rhino ATV was introduced in 2003, a large number of rollover accidents involving the vehicles began to be reported. In September 2006, Yamaha warned owners about the potential risk of Rhino rollover accidents, providing information about what consumers should do if the UTV begins to tip over. However, critics argue that the Yamaha Rhino UTV is an unstable, unreasonably dangerous vehicle and that Yamaha has failed to take steps that could make the vehicles safer.
According to the complaint, Yamaha released an unsafe vehicle which contributed to Sand’s death. However, Yamaha officials argue that Sand was not wearing a helmet and it is unclear whether she was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash. The company also places blame on the driver of the Rhino, Nils McElroy, who served 90 days in jail after pleading guilty to vehicular homicide.
In 2009, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) launched an investigation into 46 occupant deaths mostly from Yamaha Rhino rollover accidents. The CPSC then pressured Yamaha to suspend sales of the Yamaha Rhino 450, 660 and 700 models to make safety improvements. Despite Yamaha’s claims that driver error is to blame in most cases, the CPSC concluded that the vehicle was unstable and could roll over even on level ground at slow speeds.
The lawsuit alleges that Sand is one of 94 people who have died in Yamaha Rhino accidents. There are several hundred Yamaha Rhino ATV lawsuits that have been filed in courts throughout the United States, with 170 claims pending in California state court alone.
The federal Yamaha Rhino litigation has been centralized for pretrial proceedings as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation, before Judge Jennifer B. Coffman in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky. To date, Yamaha Motor Corp. has successfully defended itself in four out of five Yamaha Rhino trials that have reached state court juries. The only loss came in May, when a Georgia jury awarded $317,000 to a man who suffered leg injuries during a Yamaha rollover accident.
Although the ATV maker has been successful in the early state court trials, prior reports suggest that Yamaha Rhino settlements have been confidentially reached in a number of other cases that were set for trial.