The Consumer Product Safety Commission has announced a major recall of over 120,000 Yamaha Rhino off-highway recreational vehicles. The recall involves all Rhino 450, 660 and 700 model vehicles, which have been linked to 46 deaths and hundreds of injuries. Reports of serious injury and death linked to this vehicle have been reported since 2003, leaving many to wonder if this action is an example of “too little, too late.”

Cole Portis, who heads up our firm’s Product Liability Section, has reviewed over 75 Yamaha Rhino rollover claims in the past two years. Cole is concerned that this recall – while a good first step – fails to address the inherent design flaws that make the Yamaha Rhino so susceptible to low-speed rollovers. Cole remains hopeful, however, that this government recall will serve as a wakeup call and that Yamaha will re-evaluate its practice of putting profits over people.

According to an official news release, the CPSC staff has investigated more than 50 incidents involving 46 driver and passenger deaths related to these two Rhino models. They report more than two-thirds of the cases involved rollovers, and of the rollover-related deaths and hundreds of reported injuries, many appear to involve turns at relatively low speed and on level terrain.

Almost immediately upon the Rhino entering the market, reports of rollover accidents with serious injuries began. The reports indicated that the Rhino was rolling over while turning at speeds of less than 20 mph on virtually flat ground. The Yamaha Rhino has caused a large number of devastating rollover accidents leaving adults and a number of children seriously injured, permanently maimed and, in some instances, dead.

There is evidence to suggest that Yamaha rushed the Rhino to the market before it properly tested them. Around 1990, Yamaha made an agreement with the CPSC not to produce any four-wheel ATV with a static lateral stability factor of less than .89. Because the Rhino is not an ATV – but instead is a UTV – Yamaha did not have to comply with its agreement with the CPSC. Testing of the Rhino verified that the Rhino’s static lateral stability factor is about .86, thus making the Rhino less stable than any ATV being manufactured.

In lawsuits, discovery revealed that Yamaha was aware of problems with the instability of its design in 2002 before the Rhino first hit the market and was even concerned about future lawsuits as a result. Furthermore, it appears that Yamaha conducted no specific objective dynamic testing of its vehicle’s lateral stability. No dynamic testing was performed despite Yamaha’s knowledge that during some handling or performance tests, known as running tests, about 20 rollovers occurred on the Rhino prototype vehicle. Conveniently for Yamaha, either no documentation was made of these rollover accidents or the documentation was discarded. No instrumentation was utilized in the test vehicles to record information such as acceleration, speed, rollover rate, steer input, or the like. The vehicle stability analysis conducted by Yamaha on the Rhino design was almost entirely based upon the subjective assessment of Yamaha’s test riders’ perception of the vehicle. Yamaha has admitted that it did not do any dynamic testing of the Rhino to see what would happen to passengers in the event there was a rollover. In other words, Yamaha failed to do the kind of testing required to keep drivers and passengers safe while riding in the vehicle.

When confronted with the mounting injuries caused by the Rhino design, Yamaha took a well-used corporate strategy, and blamed the consumers for their own injuries, accusing them of using aggressive driving maneuvers. The following statement was made by Yamaha:

While the Rhino has been a reliable and versatile vehicle, some operators have engaged in aggressive driving (such as sliding, skidding, fishtailing, or doing donuts) or made abrupt maneuvers (such as turning the steering wheel too far or too fast) that have resulted in side rollovers – even on flat, open areas. Unfortunately, some occupants have been seriously injured during such rollovers when they put their arms or legs outside the vehicle, resulting in crushing or other injuries.

In addition, in 2007, without admitting that the Rhino’s design was defective, Yamaha made a “special offer” to Rhino owners to retrofit free of charge the older models of the Rhino (the 2004-2007 ATV models) with free half doors and a passenger handhold. Yamaha has also installed half doors and the handhold on its 2008 Rhino model. The company claimed that these features would help people keep their limbs inside the vehicle during a rollover. However, these design changes and retrofits did not address the underlying problem; that is, the unstable design and its tendency to tip over due to its narrow wheelbase, its high center of gravity, and its top-heavy design.

Finally, in March 2008, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced a major recall of over 120,000 Yamaha Rhino off-highway recreational vehicles. The recall involves all Rhino 450, 660 and 700 model vehicles. If you need more information on Rhino issues, contact Cole Portis or Chris Glover in our firm at 800-898-2034 or by email at Cole.Portis@beasleyallen.com or Chris.Glover@beasleyallen.com. You can also get more information by visiting www.yamaha-rhino-lawyer.com.

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