Product Liability

Yamaha loses fight to force arbitration in Texas lawsuit

The parents of a 13-year old boy who was killed in a Rhino accident scored a small victory this month when the Ninth Court of Appeals of Texas ruled their lawsuit against Yamaha could proceed to trial. Yamaha wanted the case to go to arbitration, but the court rejected its petition.

The boy’s parents filed the wrongful death lawsuit against Yamaha and its subsidiaries on November 5, 2007, alleging that the Rhino’s poor design and inadequate safety features directly contributed to their son’s death. The Rhino is notorious for its narrow track width and wheels, which, combined with its high center of gravity, make the vehicle unstable and prone to roll over.

Engineers gave the Rhino a narrow gait so that it would fit in the back of a standard pickup truck. That convenience feature, however, has translated into a safety hazard that has caused dozens of deaths and hundreds of serious injuries since the Rhino was first introduced in the U.S. in 2003. According to the CPSC, many Rhino rollovers “appear to involve turns at relatively low speeds and on level terrain.” The plaintiffs’ son died from the fatal injuries he received when the Rhino he was in rolled over.

Yamaha had hoped the fine print on an agreement signed by the plaintiffs when they bought the Rhino at a dealership would prevent the case from going to trial.

Court documents show that the plaintiff’s finance agreement from the dealership contained an arbitration clause.

However, because the company did not file a motion to compel arbitration until June 1, the plaintiffs successfully argued that Yamaha had waived its right to arbitration and therefore invoked the judicial process.

The court denied Yamaha’s motion to force arbitration on June 30. An appeal was rejected on July 16. The trial is currently scheduled to begin on August 17 of this year in the 163rd Judicial Court in Orange County, Texas.