Yamaha vows appeal after jury awards $3.3 million in Rhino rollover case

Publish Date: 
May 3, 2013
By Holly J. Wagner

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Yamaha plans to appeal a $3.3 million jury award in a product liability case alleging the design of the 2007 Rhino 660 Special Edition is defective and that Yamaha “wantonly” manufactured the vehicles despite knowing they were unsafe.

“Yamaha is disappointed with the jury’s decision in the second trial of the McMahon v. Yamaha Motor Corp U.S.A. matter and will pursue all appropriate legal remedies, including appeal,” said Van Holmes, public relations manager in the ATV & SxS department for Yamaha Motor Corp. U.S.A. “Testimony during the trial showed that, at the time of the accident, the driver was not wearing a seatbelt, nor a helmet, nor any form of protective clothing as recommended by Yamaha.”

"Yamaha is disappointed with the jury's decision...and will pursue all appropriate legal remedies, including appeal."

-- Van Holmes, Yamaha

On the wantonness claim, the jury on May 1 assessed $1.398 million in compensatory and $2 million in punitive damages.

The complaint alleged that the "Rhino is defective in design and unsafe for ordinary purposes for which it was intended in that it is unstable, tips over at low speeds and causes severe injury to the driver and/or passenger’s limbs by crushing or trapping them with the vehicle.” 

The suit stemmed from a July 26, 2007, accident in which Jacklyn McMahon was driving the Rhino from her house to her barn. “The terrain was completely flat. She made a tight right turn, at a slow speed, she accelerated out of the turn, and the vehicle tipped over,” said her attorney, Aaron Watson. “Just weeks after the McMahon tipover, Yamaha sent McMahon a warning label which indicated that the vehicle could turn over on flat terrain and offering doors for the vehicle.”

In the accident, the vehicle started to tip and McMahon instinctively extended her leg out the side opening of the vehicle, Watson said, which resulted in her being pinned under the vehicle. The skin and muscle on her leg and arm were separated from the bone in the accident, he said.

The lawsuit was originally filed Dec. 3, 2007. McMahon sued Yamaha Motor Corp. and the dealer, alleging defective design caused the Rhino to roll over on her. The dealer was dismissed from the case early on, Watson said. McMahon sought damages from Yamaha on allegations of negligence, liability under Alabama’s Extended Manufacturers Liability Doctrine, and wantonness.

The trial judge threw out the negligence and wantonness claims before that trial, so the jury heard evidence only on the liability claims. Holmes said the jury in that case found no defect in the vehicle and returned a unanimous verdict in Yamaha’s favor.

But McMahon appealed the decision to throw out the negligence and wantonness claims, and the Alabama Supreme Court reinstated the wantonness claim, which was tried this year. (continued)