Yamaha Motor Corporation, USA Announces Design Modifications To All Of Its Rhino 660 and Rhino 450 All-Terrain Vehicles

Yamaha Motor Corporation, USA recently announced it would make design modifications to all of its Rhino 660 and Rhino 450 all-terrain vehicles. Company-issued literature noted these design modifications would include the addition of doors and additional passenger handholds "to help keep occupants from sticking arms and legs out of the vehicles in response to a side rollover."

Yamaha's actions follow numerous complaints by Yamaha drivers and passengers of serious injuries to legs and arms. These complaints originated shortly after the Rhino entered the consumer market in November of 2003. Anthony J. Klein, senior partner in the law firm of Klein, DeNatale, Goldner, Cooper, Rosenlieb and Kimball, LLP., represents more than 60 people nationwide who have experienced devastating injuries after Rhino rollovers. These accidents typically occurred when the Rhino was being operated at a speed less than 20 miles per hour, and when making either a left or right turn. Many of these accidents took place in open flat areas or the owner's backyard, often within a week of purchasing the vehicle. Two of Klein's clients are employees of Rhino dealers who were hurt in the dealer's lot while moving the vehicles.

The severity of the leg and arm injuries vary enormously. Some lucky people were just scratched or bruised. "My clients are not the lucky ones," said Klein. Several have below-the-knee amputations. Nearly all have spent weeks in the hospital undergoing repeated surgeries. Excruciating bone infections are common with these crush injuries and some medical experts believe the infections will follow these people the remainder of their lives. "These are healthy, active, young people who are used to enjoying the outdoors, suddenly transformed into invalids," Klein added. "They are permanently damaged, while most are unable to go back to work that involves more than minimal physical exertion."

The law firm, the first to file a case against Yamaha for the safety short falls in their Rhino side by side vehicles, hired highly regarded engineers, design experts and test drivers to independently study the Rhino. Rhinos were purchased and purposely rolled with two dummies of different weights to study the effects of different degree turns at a range of speeds on various terrains. Computer models were created showing the effects of the various forces generated by the accidents. In addition, Klein deposed all of the principle Yamaha employees responsible for the design, testing and manufacture of the Rhino. These studies were extensive and expensive, but Klein noted the time and money were well spent. "Our experts have provided us with test results that allow me to say the vehicle was defectively designed, and fails to provide adequate protection to the occupants' arms and legs."

To date, Klein and his legal team have settled eight cases with the manufacturer. Until the recent announcement of the modifications, Yamaha contended if driven appropriately, the Rhino is safely designed. They blamed user error for the many rollovers. Klein felt their position was softening in September, 2006 when Yamaha issued a letter to Rhino owners warning: "...if you are in a situation where the vehicle is tipping over, do not put your arm or leg outside the vehicle to try to stop it. You could be severely injured. You could suffer a crushed hand, arm, leg, or foot, if part of your body is caught underneath the vehicle. You must keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle until it has stopped moving."

But Klein maintains the force of the turn preceding the rollover, as well as the quick flipping of the vehicle, made it virtually impossible for occupants to control the movements of their arms and legs. With no leg protection or handrails, there was little the driver or passenger could do to keep their limbs within the Rhino during a rollover. Klein felt the 2006 warning did nothing to protect users of the Rhino in real driving situations. "Rational people with time to think don't consciously throw their arms and legs under a 1300-pound vehicle," he stated.

The design modifications will be made by Yamaha dealers to all 2004-2007 Rhino units currently in dealer inventory or acquired in the future (whether new or used) by the dealers. The modifications are also available to all current Rhino owners, and will be installed by the dealers at no charge to the owners. Letters outlining the manufacturer's modification recommendations are currently being mailed to owners by Yamaha that include a warning label to be placed within the vehicle, as well as a supplementary owner's manual pamphlet. The 2008 Rhino products will also reflect the modifications.

"I am gratified Yamaha has seen fit to modify these vehicles as we have recommended since initiating litigation almost three years ago," said Klein. "I believe our litigation involving so many seriously injured people played a roll in Yamaha's decision to make changes."

Other members of the KDG Rhino litigation team include Gary Logan, partner; Ryan Bright, associate attorney; Bill Means, investigator; and Shelly Howlett, paralegal.

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