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Yamaha Rhino Jury Verdict In Favor of Plaintiff

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Roger and Glenda McTaggart v. Yamaha Motor Corporation

Gwinnet State Court, State of Georgia, Civil Action No.: 08C-18950-2

Plaintiff’s Counsel: Andy Childers of Childers, Schlueter & Smith, LLC and along with Robert Blanchard and Kim Lambert of Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Echsner, & Proctor.

Mr. and Mrs. McTaggart purchased a Yamaha Rhino utility-terrain vehicle (UTV) on October 10, 2006 from D&H Cycle in Cullman, Alabama. Little did they know at the time that the vehicle was at serious danger of rollovers, even at low speeds.

Yamaha first began producing the Rhino UTV in 2003. So many complaints were made about the vehicle’s instability that the company issued a safety letter in September 2006, including warning labels that owners could place on the vehicle. The letter downplayed the conditions that could cause a rollover and made no mention of possible rollovers at low speeds on flat terrain.

On May 14, 2007, Roger McTaggart was operating his Rhino on uneven, but flat grass-covered terrain. After stopping the UTV, Robert resumed a forward motion while steering to the right. The Rhino tipped onto the driver’s side, trapping his leg under the vehicle, causing severe and permanent injuries. Yamaha also failed to put compartment doors on the Yamaha Rhino to prevent riders legs from becoming entrapped outside the vehicle in the event of a roll over.

The UTV’s combination of a powerful engine, high center of gravity, narrow wheelbase and small tires can cause the UTV to rollover even at speeds as low as 13 mph. The vehicle’s 1,100-pound weight, absence of proper restrains and lack of side doors make it easy for occupants to fall from the passenger compartment and sustain crushing injuries. This is just what happened to Mr. McTaggart.

This unstable design makes the Rhino unsafe for its intended purpose of off-road riding. The vehicle is so prone to tipping that 59 riders had been killed in Rhino accidents as of August of 2009 according to reports. Mr. McTaggart counts himself among the lucky survivors but still suffers from the injuries he sustanied while using the Yamaha Rhino 660.

A Gwinnett County jury awarded $317,000 to Mr. McTaggart and his wife to cover past and future medical expenses that were a direct result of the incident, Mr. McTaggart’s pain and suffering loss of consortium damages to Mrs. McTaggart. This is the first successful jury verdict against Yamaha and the Rhino 660.

This Yamaha Rhino jury verdict validates the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s initial concerns and opinions as detailed by Myron Levin of CBS News.  In a news piece on the Yamaha Rhino on August 4, 2009, we learned:

The Rhino has “significant problems,” said Inez Tenenbaum, who in June became chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. “The public needs to be aware that, already, 59 people have been killed in these vehicles.”

In an interview with CBS News, Tenenbaum said the safety commission is continuing to investigate. She said that if the Rhino is found to be too dangerous even with the changes, she would be willing to seek a ban.

This case is likely to set precedent for hundreds of pending Multidistrict Litigation classes that are waiting to be tried. All pending lawsuits against Yamaha and the Rhino 660 filed in federal court have been gathered for pretrial litigation in the Western District of Kentucky under U.S. District Judge Jennifer B. Coffman. Judge Coffman will preside over a five-trial sampling of cases, scheduled to begin October 18, 2010. Subsequent bellwether cases are scheduled for November 15, November 29, December 13, and January 10, 2011. There are also numerous individual cases still pending in California and Georgia, where the McTaggart’s case was heard and tried.

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