Yamaha Rhino Settlements Have Been Reached in More Than 100 Cases

More than 100 Yamaha Rhino lawsuits have been quietly settled out of court between the manufacturer of the popular all-terrain vehicle and plaintiffs who say they have been hurt or lost loved ones in Yamaha Rhino rollover accidents

The Yamaha Rhino settlement agreements were disclosed in a case management order filed last week in the federal consolidated Yamaha Rhino litigation. Details of the settlements were not revealed, but the order mentions that more than 100 settlements have been reached and that negotiations are continuing in a number of pending suits.

Several hundred people have filed a Yamaha Rhino accident lawsuit in state or federal courts throughout the United States. Although the circumstances of each accident are different, the complaints all involve similar allegations that design defects with the ATV make it prone to tip or rollover, even when operated in a safe manner on flat surfaces.

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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 Rhino begins to tip over. However, critics argue that the Yamaha Rhino is an unstable, unreasonably dangerous vehicle and that the manufacturer failed to take steps that could have made the vehicles safer.

In 2009, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) launched an investigation into the vehicle after at least 46 occupant deaths were linked with the Yamaha Rhino. The CPSC then pressured Yamaha to suspend sales of the Yamaha Rhino 450, 660 and 700 models to make safety improvements.

In federal court, the 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.

In a case management order issued on March 9, Judge Coffman indicated that the purposes of the MDL will be largely achieved once common discovery has concluded later this year. At that time, the court will consider remanding any remaining lawsuits to the federal district courts where they were originally filed for trial.

Although no cases from the Yamaha Rhino MDL have gone to trial, a handful of cases have been presented to state court juries. Yamaha Motor Corp. has successfully defended itself in four out of the five Yamaha Rhino trials, with the only loss coming in May 2010, when a Georgia jury awarded $317,000 to a man who suffered leg injuries during a Yamaha rollover accident. However, it appears that the company has been settling Yamaha Rhino cases to avoid trial in the stronger lawsuits.

A trial began late last month in Ohio, involving a Yamaha wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of Ellie Sands, a 10-year-old girl who died in a rollover accident at a church picnic. In that case, Yamaha officials argue that Sand was not wearing a helmet and that 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.


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