Yamaha named in separate federal lawsuits

By Kelly Holleran | Apr 28, 2010

BECKLEY -- Two West Virginia residents have filed separate suits against a prominent ATV manufacturer, alleging they were injured after their four-wheelers flipped.

Beverly and Marvin Jeffrey and Jennifer Chandler, on behalf of her minor daughter Alysia Chandler, filed federal suits against Yamaha and Yasufuku.

The Jeffreys say Beverly Jeffrey suffered a partial amputation to the fingers on her left hand when the Yamaha Rhino on which she was riding on July 13 on Wingrove Road near Glen Daniels rolled over.

"As plaintiff was in the process of making a low speed right hand turn, the Rhino tipped/rolled over and plaintiff Beverly Jeffrey instinctively placed her left arm out of the Rhino in an attempt to stabalize the Rhino," the Jeffreys' suit states. "As she did so, the Rhino's roll cage pinned the plaintiff's left hand/wrist causing a partial amputation to her left hand fingers at the scene while she was left trapped beneath the subject Rhino."

Because of the rollover, Beverly Jeffrey endured multiple surgeries and skin grafts on her left hand, palm and stomach; was life-flighted to the hospital; and endured prolonged hospital stays, according to the complaint.

In another Rhino-related accident, Jennifter Chandler says her daughter sustained severe injuries to her left arm when the Yamaha Rhino on which she was riding on July 10, 2007, on Cermuto Road in Raleigh County rolled over.

All plaintiffs say the incidents occurred at low rates of speed and on level ground. They blame Yamaha for causing the rollovers because they say the company knew of the Rhino's tendency to roll over on flat terrain, but induced buyers into purchasing what the company advertised as a safer ATV than its competitors.

"The Yamaha defendants designed, warranted, promoted and manufactured the Rhino with ground clearance, a center of gravity and speed higher than any competing side-by-side, all-terrain vehicle," the suit states. "The Yamaha defendants designed and manufactured the Rhino with seatbelts, a roll cage, bucket seats and a steering wheel, which provided the public with the perception and understanding that it was safer than other all-terrain vehicles, including other side-by-side vehicles."

In fact, since the Yamaha Rhino was introduced to the United States market in 2003, it has been involved in numerous rollover accidents, the Jeffreys and Chandler claim.

"Defendants continued, for over three years to market, sell and warrant the Rhino as a safe and stable all terrain utility vehicle effectively minimizing or diluting their responsibility for tipover/rollover injuries," the suit states. "While defendants continued to vigorously sell, market, warrant and advertise to the general public, defendants did not warn the public of the Rhino's unreasonably dangerous nature, and represented to the public that injuries caused were due to inappropriate or aggressive driving on uneven or sloped terrain."

It was not until Sept. 11, 2006, when Yamaha sent a notice to some Rhino owners warning them the vehicle could roll over when driven aggresively or on sloping terrain, the Jeffreys and Chandler claim. 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.

By March 2007, Yamaha realized it could no longer conceal dangerous engineering flaws, so it hired Yasufuku to analyze, re-engineer and correct certain safety features, the suit states.

"No later than March 2007, defendant Yasufuku was subjectively aware of the dangerous nature of the Rhino product, was under direct instructions from the Yamaha defendants to address these hazards, and was consciously engaged as a co-conspirator in concealing said dangers from the general public while its work was underway," the complaint says."Despite this knowledge of consumer danger and in violation of its contractual and common law duties, defendant Yasufuku failed to take any action whatsoever to remedy this situation and specifically failed to warn the consuming public; request that the Yamaha defendants warn the consuming public; suggest or require a recall; inform the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission; or conduct its re-engineering work in a reasonable and/or timely manner."

After hearing the numerous 2003 complaints, Yamaha should have designed the Rhino with adequate safety features, such as doors or diagonal bars, which would have protected passengers in the event of an unexpected rollover, the suit states.

"At all time relevant hereto, the Yamaha defendants knew that, in the event of a tip-over/rollover, which was a foreseeable event to defendants but a hidden danger to consumers, there was a high likelihood of an occupants lower and upper extremitites coming outside of the frame and being injured and/or crushed," the complaint says. "The Yamaha defendants knew that safety features such as doors were necessary to reduce the risk of injury to the public, including plaintiff, who would unexpectedly be injured, but consciously chose to design, warrant, manufacture, and market the Rhino without implementing such safety features or provide any warning that the Rhino was unreasonably dangerous and would tip/rollover during slow speed turns on flat, even terrain."

Because of Beverly Jeffrey's and Alysia Chandler's rollover incidents, they say they experienced extreme physical pain, suffering and physical impairment; lost wages, their future earning capacity and their ability to enjoy life; incurred medical costs; and suffered annoyance, inconvenience, permanent scarring and disfigurement.

In their five-count suits, the Jeffreys and Jennifer Chandler are seeking an unspecified judgment and punitive damages, plus costs, attorneys' fees and pre- and post-judgment interest.

They are represented by Brett J. Preston and C. Benjamin Salango of Preston and Salango in Charleston and by Michael Olivio and Travis A. Griffith of Olivio and Griffith in Charleston.

U.S. District Court case numbers: 5:10-cv-371 and 5:10-cv-372

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