CHARLESTON – Two West Virginia residents have filed separate suits against a prominent ATV manufacturer, alleging they were injured after their four-wheelers flipped.
Teresa Urban, on behalf of her minor son identified only as B.U., and Erik Morris filed federal suits against Yamaha.
Urban says her son was seriously injured when the Yamaha Rhino on which he was riding on March 2, 2008, rolled over.
Likewise, Morris says he was seriously injured when the Yamaha Rhino on which he was riding on May 28, 2007, rolled over.
They say the incidents occurred because the Yamaha Rhino was not stable and lacked necessary safety features, such as doors.
"The Yamaha Rhino is more narrow than most vehicles in its class, being designed to fit in a pickup truck bed as a convenience to consumers," the suit states. "Such convenience was achieved through designing the vehicle with a narrow track width, greatly decreasing the vehicle's stability characteristics."
In fact, since the Yamaha Rhino was introduced to the United States market in 2003, it has been involved in numerous rollover accidents, Urban and Morris claim.
"The Yamaha Rhino's high center of gravity, narrow track width, narrow wheels and tires, and side-by-side seating combine to make the vehicle especially prone to rolling over," the suit states.
The Rhino was designed with a deficient rollover protection system and without safety side netting, even though such technology was available at the time the vehicle was manufactured, according to the complaint.
Yamaha was aware of the Rhino's propensity to roll over as evidenced by a notice it sent to some Rhino owners in September 2006, Morris and Urban say. The notice warned the vehicle could roll over when driven aggressively or on sloping terrain. It also cautioned owners that in the event of a rollover, they should not stick their arms and legs outside the vehicle, according to the complaint.
In August 2007, Yamaha Rhino notified owners who registered their contact information with the company that Rhino operators had experienced rollovers, even on flat surfaces. It extended an offer for free doors and handholds. However, many Rhino owners never received the notice. Those that did had a problem obtaining the equipment because the demand exceeded the supply, the suit states.
The Yamaha Rhino is a dangerous product, even on flat surfaces, Morris and Urban say.
"The Rhino's risk of injury greatly outweighs any utility," they wrote in their complaint. "The likely probability of injury on a Rhino, and the gravity of such an injury, exceeds any minimal cost of a safer and reasonable alternative design."
Because of B.U.'s and Morris' rollover incidents, they say they incurred medical costs, were permanently impaired and suffered a great reduction in their quality of life. They also lost wages and suffered pain and mental anguish, according to the complaint.
In the six-count suit, Urban and Morris are seeking unspecified compensatory, special and punitive damages, plus costs and other relief the court deems just.
They are represented by James A. McKowen of James F. Humphreys and Associates in Charleston and by Robert E. Ammons and Darcy M. Douglas of The Ammons Law Firm in Houston.
U.S. District Court case numbers: 2:09-0330 and 2:09-0320