Yamaha Rhino: Three Defense Verdicts

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Product Liability News

In a clear vindication of the Yamaha Rhino off-road vehicle, in the past three weeks, juries in California and Alabama returned three complete defense verdicts in cases tried by lead firms in the Rhino litigation:

Case #1. On July 26, 2010, after a four month trial in the Orange County Superior Court Civil Complex Division, the jury returned a 12 – 0 unanimous defense verdict in the first “bellwether” trial of over 100 California consolidated cases involving the Yamaha Rhino off-road vehicle.

Richard B. Holt, Plaintiff vs. Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A., Yamaha Motor Manufacturing Corporation of America, Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd., Defendants, Superior Court of California, for the County of Orange – Civil Complex Center, Case No. 06CC11291, Judge Thierry Colaw presiding.

Plaintiff Richard Holt alleged that defects in his 2005 Rhino 660 vehicle caused his April 1, 2006 crash in which he tipped his vehicle onto its side resulting in an open compound fracture of his left tibia and fibula.

Plaintiff claimed that the Rhino lacked adequate stability, doors for lower extremity protection and sufficient warnings. Yamaha defended its design and warnings, contending that Mr. Holt caused his crash and injury by aggressive and impaired driving and by failing to wear a seat belt. Plaintiff denied aggressive driving and impairment and claimed he was wearing his seat belt.

Case #2. On 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.

Jacob Daniel Lewis and Patrick Hernandez, Plaintiffs vs. Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A., Yamaha Motor Manufacturing Corporation of America and Seidner Enterprises, LLC, d.b.a. Bert’s Mega Mall, Defendants, Superior Court of California, for the County of San Bernardino, Case No. 06CC11291, Judge Gilbert G. Ochoa presiding.

Plaintiffs Jacob Lewis and Patrick Hernandez alleged that defects in a 2007 Rhino 660 vehicle caused their injuries in an April 16, 2007 crash that occurred when plaintiffs 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 both plaintiffs.

Plaintiffs claimed that their injuries resulted from alleged defects in the vehicle’s head and upper extremity occupant protection. Yamaha defended its design and contended that plaintiffs’ injuries were the result of aggressive driving and both plaintiffs’ failure to wear helmets, contrary to Yamaha’s on product warnings.

Case #3. On August 12, 2010, after a two week trial and only 50 minutes of deliberation, a Tallapoosa County, Alabama, jury returned a verdict for Yamaha in another matter involving a Yamaha Rhino off-road vehicle.

Paul Mathis, Plaintiff v. Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd.; Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A.; Yamaha Motor Manufacturing Corporation of America; and Tway’s Cycles, Inc., d/b/a Twin Cities Yamaha, Circuit Court of Tallapoosa County, Alabama, Case No. CV-08-900003, Judge Steven R. Perryman presiding.

Plaintiff Paul Mathis sustained a degloving soft tissue injury to his right lower leg in an October 1, 2007, incident as he rode as a passenger in a 2007 model year Yamaha Rhino 660 operated by his girlfriend in a field.

Yamaha contended that the driver tipped the vehicle onto the passenger side by driving into a ditch while attempting a U-turn on a sloped surface. Plaintiff claimed that the vehicle lacked adequate stability and lower extremity protection.

Yamaha defended its design and contended that plaintiff’s injury resulted from improper operation and his failure to wear a seat belt.

One of Yamaha’s lead counsel in defending the Rhino, Paul Cereghini, Executive Managing Partner of Bowman and Brooke LLP’s Phoenix office, commented:

“The juries in the Holt, Lewis, and Mathis cases rejected a very broad scope of the plaintiffs’ claims. The Holt and Mathis trials involved stability and lower extremity occupant protection claims. The Lewis trial involved head and upper extremity occupant protection claims.”

“The juries in these three trials rejected all of those claims. These verdicts demonstrate in no uncertain terms that the Rhino is a safe and defect free vehicle and that Yamaha can, and will, aggressively and successfully defend this excellent product.”

These trials involved counsel with major roles in the pending Rhino litigation. Mr. Cereghini was Yamaha’s lead trial counsel in the Holt matter. Plaintiff’s trial counsel in Holt, Scott Nealey (Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein, LLP, San Francisco, California) and Tony Klein (Klein, DeNatale, Goldner, Cooper, Rosenlieb & Kimball, LLP, Bakersfield, California) and defense counsel Paul Cereghini (Bowman and Brooke LLP, Phoenix, Arizona) are lead counsel in the California consolidated Rhino cases.

Their law firms have leadership roles in the federal Rhino MDL. Yamaha’s lead counsel in Lewis (Robert Miller, Bowman and Brooke LLP, Los Angeles, California) also has a leadership position in the California consolidated Rhino cases. Plaintiff’s counsel in Mathis, Jason Shamblin, and his firm, Cory, Watson, Crowder & DeGaris, P.C., represent plaintiffs in numerous Rhino cases.