Product Liability

Federal Yamaha Rhino cases set for multidistrict litigation next year

All of the lawsuits involving the Yamaha Rhino that were filed in federal court have been brought together for pretrial litigation under U.S. District Judge Jennifer B. Coffman in the Western District of Kentucky. Judge Coffman will preside over five trials scheduled to open between October 2010 and January 2011.

Because more than 500 lawsuits have been filed in federal courts throughout the U.S., a “bellwether” approach is being taken to manage the caseload. A group of plaintiffs will be selected to represent all of the other plaintiffs in the case. Bellwether trials are occasionally formed when large numbers of plaintiffs file suit and proceed on the same theory or claim. The verdict from these trials will be extrapolated to the other plaintiffs’ cases, and will indicate the trends in all remaining cases. The multidistrict litigation (MDL) could also lead to a settlement.

Nearly all Rhino lawsuits filed against Yamaha claim that the vehicles have design flaws and lack key safety features, both of which make the vehicles unstable, prone to roll over, and unusually dangerous. The Rhino’s narrow frame and track width and its high center of gravity have played a role in hundreds of rollovers and crashes since the vehicle’s debut in 2003. Most plaintiffs claim that the vehicles were being operated appropriately and responsibly when the accidents occurred, often on level ground and at low speed.

The first of the MDL trials is scheduled to start on October 18, 2010 and will involve a case brought by a Kentucky woman. Subsequent cases are scheduled to be heard on November 15, November 29, December 13, and January 10, 2011.

Yamaha issued a safety recall of all Rhino vehicles last spring and ordered its dealerships to stop selling all Rhino models until a series of safety upgrades could be completed on each new vehicle.

On August 27, a Texas jury cleared Yamaha in a case brought by the parents of Forrest “Eddie” Ray, a 13-year-old boy who was killed when the Rhino he was driving flipped. Although seen as a landmark trial and victory for Yamaha, the boy’s father testified that his son had been driving a modified Rhino and was not wearing a helmet at the time of the accident.