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Defense Verdict in Yamaha Rhino Trial

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On Wednesday, August 11, 2010, after a seven week trial, a San Bernardino County, California, jury found no defect and delivered another major verdict for Yamaha in a case involving the Yamaha Rhino off-road vehicle.

Jacob Daniel Lewis and Patrick Hernandez, Plaintiffs vs. Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A., Yamaha Motor Manufacturing Corporation of America and Defendant Seidner Enterprises, LLC, d.b.a. Bert’s Mega Mall.

Superior Court of California, for the County of San Bernardino, Case No. 06CC11291, Judge Gilbert G. Ochoa presiding.

Plaintiffs alleged that defects in a 2007 Rhino 660 vehicle caused their injuries in an April 16, 2007 crash that occurred when plaintiff Jacob Lewis struck two dirt berms while driving near the vehicle’s 40 mph top speed.

The vehicle became airborne and overturned, resulting in head and upper extremity injuries to Mr. Lewis and his passenger, plaintiff Patrick Hernandez. Both plaintiffs were wearing seat belts at the time of the crash; but, contrary to Yamaha’s on product warnings, neither was wearing a helmet.

Plaintiffs claimed that the Rhino lacked adequate occupant protection from head and upper extremity injuries and alleged that the vehicle was sold with defective seats and seat belts. Plaintiffs also claimed that the Rhino should have been equipped with roll bar padding and four-point harnesses rather then three-point seat belts.

Yamaha defended its design as safe and defect free and contended that plaintiffs caused their own injuries by reckless, high speed driving and by failing to wear helmets. Plaintiffs denied reckless driving and claimed that helmets would not have prevented Mr. Lewis’ brain injury.

Plaintiff Lewis sustained brain and upper arm injuries and plaintiff Hernandez sustained a shoulder injury and an alleged head injury resulting in post traumatic stress disorder.

Collectively, plaintiffs sought over $15 million in compensatory damages. Plaintiffs’ case went to verdict on a strict product liability design defect claim.

The jury’s special verdict for Yamaha rejected plaintiffs’ claim, finding that the Rhino met ordinary consumer expectations, and therefore, was not defective.

Plaintiffs’ witnesses included engineer Dr. Voyko Banjac from San Diego, California; accident reconstruction expert Stephen Plourd from San Diego, California; biomechanic Joseph Awad from San Diego, California; neuropsychologist Dr. Robert Sbordone from Irvine, California; neurologist Dr. Jeffrey Bounds from Loma Linda, California; radiologist Dr. Gary Stimac, from Seattle, Washington; vocational rehabilitation expert Dr. Roger Thrush from La Mesa, California; life care planner Elizabeth Holakiewicz, from Carlsbad, California; and, economist Vicke Wolfe, from San Diego, California.

Yamaha’s witnesses included accident reconstructionist Dr. Graeme Fowler from Phoenix, Arizona; biomechanic Dr. Harry Smith from San Antonio, Texas; seat expert Andrew Levitt from Torrance, California; seat belt engineer Mr. Eddie Cooper from Phoenix, Arizona; and, neuropsychologist Dr. Anthony Strickland from Los Angeles, California.

Plaintiffs were represented by Charles S. LiMandri and Richard Salpietra from Rancho Santa Fe, California.

Yamaha was represented by its lead counsel Robert Miller of the national product liability defense firm Bowman and Brooke in Los Angeles, California and Timothy J. Mattson of Bowman and Brooke in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Mr. Miller and Mr. Mattson were assisted at trial by Richard Stuhlbarg of Bowman and Brooke in Los Angeles, California and by Mr. Brian Gabel of the Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A. Legal Department.

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