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Yamaha Rollover Accidents Prompt Scores of Lawsuits

Apr 2, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed on behalf of victims of Yamaha Rhino rollover accidents.  The high number of accidents linked to the Rhino off-road vehicle was among the reasons U.S. regulators launched an investigation of the popular off-roader last November.  That investigation culminated in the recall of more than 145,000 Rhinos announced earlier this week.

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 one particular type of mishap - rollover accidents.  They charge that the Yamaha Rhino is top heavy, and it has tires that are extremely narrow. These design defects make it far more likely that the Yamaha Rhino will tip and rollover while going through a turn, even when the vehicle is traveling at a slow speed and is on a flat surface. Furthermore, the Yamaha Rhino is designed in such a way that passengers’ legs are unprotected in the event of a rollover accident.

Critics of Yamaha say the company has been too slow to acknowledge the Rhino's rollover problems. In September 2006, Yamaha Motor Corp. sent a letter to the owners of the vehicles warning that the Rhino was prone to tip while going through sharp turns. However, the wording of the Yamaha letter seemed to place much of the blame for Rhino rollover accident injuries on the victims themselves. In 2007,  Yamaha offered to modify the vehicles free of charge. These modifications included the addition of doors to the vehicle, as well as additional handholds.  Unfortunately, it is clear now that these fixes were not enough, as Rhino rollover accidents continued to take a devastating toll on victims.

The Rhino's problems have resulted in hundreds of lawsuits.  So many in fact, that recently, the United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ordered that all Yamaha Rhino rollover Federal lawsuits be consolidated before a Federal Judge in Kentucky. The action centralizes the Federal suits into Multidistrict Litigation ("MDL") so that all pretrial discovery and litigation from all Federal Rhino cases will be heard in one court.

Those lawsuits helped spark the CPSC's investigation of the Rhino.  Earlier this week, the commission said it had investigated 50 Rhino accidents which had resulted in 46 deaths and hundreds of serious injuries.  According to the CPSC, more than two-thirds of the cases involved rollovers.

The investigation prompted the CPSC and Yamaha to announce a recall of all Rhino 450, 660 and 700 models distributed since fall of 2003.  Under the recall, Yamaha will repair the vehicles free of charge.  These repairs include 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.

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