Yamaha Rhino Trial Begins in Texas

A product liability trial against Yamaha Motor Corp. began this week in Texas, involving allegations that design defects with the Yamaha Rhino resulted in the death of a 13 year-old boy. The case is the first Yamaha Rhino trial to occur out of about 500 similar lawsuits pending throughout the United States.

The Rhino wrongful death lawsuit involves a claim by the parents of Forest “Eddie” Ray, whose skull was crushed under the weight of the Yamaha ATV while it was making a turn at a low speed onto a paved road.

Since it was first introduced in 2003, Yamaha Rhino design problems have been linked to hundreds of ATV rollover accidents throughout the United States, resulting in serious or fatal injuries for riders. The product liability lawsuits allege that the vehicle was defectively designed with a high center of gravity, narrow wheelbase and a powerful engine, which makes it prone to rollover, even when operated at slow speeds on relatively flat surfaces.

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On March 31, 2009, a Yamaha Rhino recall was issued and sales were temporarily halted so that additional safety repairs and modifications could be done for approximately 145,000 Rhino 450, 600 and 700 model ATVs already on the market.

During opening statements earlier this week in the 163rd Judicial Court in Orange County, Texas, lawyers for both sides laid out the foundations of their case. Bloomberg News reports that the Plaintiff’s attorneys indicated that they will prove that the Yamaha Rhino contains a defective design, made more dangerous by cost-cutting measures and a lack of safety features. Yamaha lawyers suggested that the fatal Rhino accident that killed Ray occurred because the vehicle was being driven in a reckless manner and not for its intended use.

Yamaha Rhino ATV lawyers representing other plaintiffs who have lawsuits pending against Yamaha will be closely watching this trial, as the issues presented to the jury will be similar to those in other cases pending throughout the United States.

At the time of the Rhino rollover, Ray was only 13 years old and Yamaha has said that the Rhino is only for drivers 16 and older. In addition, the Rhino Ray was in was fitted with aftermarket modifications. If the plaintiffs are successful in convincing the jury that design problems caused Ray’s death, it would likely spell trouble for Yamaha in future cases.

Prior to trial, Yamaha unsuccessfully attempted to force the lawsuit into arbitration based on an agreement the parents signed with the dealer when the Rhino was first purchased. However, the Ninth Court of Appeals rejected Yamaha’s motion for arbitration, saying that the company waited too long to bring the provision to the attention of the court and had waived its right to arbitration.


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