Yamaha Rhino Death Prompts Canadian LawsuitApr 1, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP
Yamaha Motor Corp. faces a Canadian lawsuit over its defective Rhino off-road vehicle. Just yesterday, Yamaha Motor Corp. USA recalled the Rhino and suspended sales after U.S. regulators found the vehicles had been responsible for at least 46 deaths and hundreds of serious injuries.
While off-road vehicles are involved in hundreds of accidents every year, critics say the Yamaha Rhino is even more likely to be involved in deadly rollovers. Victims of Yamaha Rhino rollover accidents usually experience broken or crushed legs, ankles or feet. In some cases, victims have been permanently disabled, and have had limbs amputated following a Yamaha Rhino rollover accident. When Yamaha Rhino rollover accidents involve children, the results are often fatal.
According to Bloomberg.com, the Canadian lawsuit was filed on Dec. 12, following the death of a 13-year-old boy in a Rhino rollover accident. Yamaha Motor Corp. was expected to be served with the lawsuit today. The lawsuit must be certified a class action before it can proceed, Bloomberg.com said.
The victim, Wyatt Bauer of Rimbey, Alberta, was killed while vacationing in 2007 when the Rhino he was driving tipped over and crushed him. His family seeks C$400 million ($316 million) in damages, Bloomberg.com said.
Accidents like the one that killed Wyatt Bauer prompted the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) to announce yesterday’s recall of all Yamaha Rhino Models 450, 660 and 700 distributed since the fall of 2003. The CPSC had been conducting a probe of the Rhino since last November, and said in yesterday’s announcement that it investigated 50 accidents involving the Rhino that had resulted in 46 deaths. More than two-thirds of the cases involved rollovers and many involved unbelted occupants. Of the rollover-related deaths and hundreds of reported injuries, some of which were serious, many appeared to involve turns at relatively low speeds and on level terrain, the CPSC said.
Under the U.S. recall, Yamaha will be repairing the Rhinos free of charge. According to the CPSC, Yamaha’s repair includes 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. The company is also extending a free helmet offer to owners of the affected Yamaha Rhinos.
Though the Rhino’s problems have been apparent almost from the time it was introduced in 2003, this is the first time Yamaha has recalled the vehicle because of rollover accidents. In September 2006, Yamaha Motor Corp. sent a letter to the owners of the Rhino warning that the vehicle was prone to tip while going through sharp turns. Yamaha warned passengers of the Rhino to use seatbelts, and to keep their hands, arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times. The letter also included information on handling the Rhino if it should start to tip over.
In 2007, Yamaha offered to modify all Rhinos free of charge. These modifications included new doors and additional passenger handholds. These modifications were offered to all purchasers of Rhino vehicles, whether they bought their vehicles new or used. Yamaha also provided more warning labels for the Rhino and updated the Rhino owner's manual to include information about the modifications and rollover risks.