Yamaha Wins First Jury Trial Regarding Rhino

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Yamaha won the first lawsuit trial associated with the Rhino side-by-side vehicle after a jury in the case of Ray vs. Yamaha, in Orange, Texas, found no design defect with the product.

The family of Forest “Eddie” Ray, 13, sued Yamaha Motor Co. after the boy was killed in September 2007 when the Rhino he was riding rolled over. Ray had been making a turn from a field to a paved road at an estimated speed of 14 to 17 mph when the vehicle rolled.

The suit claimed that the Rhino’s narrow stance, its height and lack of a rear differential gear, which aids in turning, made it unsafe.

"Yamaha is saddened whenever anyone is injured in a Yamaha product-related accident, and we urge all our customers to follow the safety recommendations on our products and, as importantly, to always operate the products in a safe and responsible manner," says Van Holmes, public relations manager, ATV & SXS Department, Yamaha Motor Corp., U.S.A.

"The jury's decision to reject the plaintiff's claims and award no damages in this case is appropriate," Holmes says. "The jury made a decision based on the facts. The testimony and evidence during the trial showed that this tragic accident had nothing to do with the design of the product."

More than 120,000 Rhinos have been distributed nationwide since their introduction in 2003, and more than 200 Yamaha Rhino lawsuits are known to have been filed in various state and federal courts throughout the United States.

The bulk of the lawsuits regard the Rhino 450 and 660.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) says it has investigated more than 50 incidents involving 46 driver and passenger deaths associated with the Rhino 450 and 660. More than two-thirds of the cases involved rollovers and many involved unbelted occupants.

The CPSC said it found many of the rollover-related deaths and hundreds of reported injuries appeared to involve turns at relatively low speeds and on level terrain. As a result, in March, Yamaha announced it would offer a free repair program to address what the CPSC called "safety issues" regarding the two smaller Rhino models. The program included the installation of a spacer on the rear wheels as well as the removal of the rear anti-sway bar to help reduce the chance of rollover and improve vehicle handling, and continued installation of half doors and additional passenger handholds where these features have not been previously installed to help keep occupants' arms and legs inside the vehicle during a rollover and reduce injuries.

Yamaha markets five Rhino models for 2009. The units sell for a suggested retail price of between $8,499 and $12,399. The OEM says it will continue to vigorously defend the product.

—Submitted by Guido Ebert