Although Yamaha faces about 700 wrongful death and related injury lawsuits attributed to its golf cart-like Rhino off-road vehicles, the company has managed to deflect liability in all but one, The Oregonian reported. Only four cases have gone to trial, while the rest have been quietly settled out of court.
The only verdict in favor of the plaintiff was handed down in May, as described in a press release issued by the Georgia personal injury lawyers representing plaintiffs Roger and Glenda McTaggart.
The jury awarded the plaintiffs a $317,000 award for damages after Roger McTaggart sustained a crushed left leg when his Rhino tipped and rolled over. Yamaha's Rhino design was found to be defective and the company negligent.
While plaintiff lawyers claim Yamaha has "cherry-picked" cases to take to trial where they likely would win, only to settle most other cases quietly, a lawyer representing Yamaha offered a different perspective:
"[Tests] demonstrate in no uncertain terms that the Rhino is a safe and defect-free vehicle."
The Consumer Product Safety Commission, which said it has received reports of 70 deaths in Rhino crashes, found that most crashes in the recreational vehicle occurred under "seemingly benign" conditions:
"Of the rollover-related deaths and hundreds of reported injuries, many appear to involve turns at relatively low speeds and on level terrain."
Plaintiffs argue that it is dangerously unstable due to its narrow stance, high stature and lack of a rear differential which would otherwise help in turning.
Yamaha recalled the Rhino in March 2009 but countered that injuries can all be attributed to the failure of following instructions or attempting dangerous stunts, according to a statement:
"Virtually every Rhino-related incident involves at least one warned-against behavior (such as failure to wear a seat belt and/or helmet, underage driver, excessive speed, alcohol/drugs or inattention to terrain/collision)."
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Yamaha Recalls "Rhino" Off-Road Vehicles After 46 Rollover Deaths (FindLaw's Injured Blog)