Yamaha Motor Group is a multinational corporation that manufactures motorcycles, all-terrain sport vehicles, watercraft products, as well as other product lines (Yamaha). The Rhino 660 and the Rhino 450 are two of the all-terrain sport vehicles they manufacture. In 2007, Yamaha Motor Group had over 100 cases of product liability suits against them where the seat belt restraint systems did not work properly, there were no doors or window netting on the vehicles to restrain the occupants inside the vehicle, and a stability problem caused them to easily roll over that caused injury to consumers.
Extensive testing showed the seatbelt retractor had significant belt spool out and upper torso motion before lockup during tip over events (Aulerio). The seatbelt restraint system did nothing to restrain movements of upper and lower extremities causing them to be free to flail and be partially ejected from the confines of the compartment from inertial forces in a tip over or by occupant actions. The product also had no window netting system to prevent the occupant extremities from being extracted during a tip over.
A test case for similar cases in Gwinnett County, GA awarded a couple $317,002 to compensate for injuries sustained when the Rhino ATV tipped over and crushed the husband's leg in a 2007 accident (Peters, 2010). The plaintiff had been driving the vehicle, stopped, and turned the steering wheel to the right when the vehicle tipped toward the driver's side trapping his leg under the vehicle, causing the bone to be exposed. The area he was driving on was said to be an uneven, relatively flat, grassy area. The plaintiff's argument was that the vehicle did not have a barrier to contain the rider's legs inside the vehicle. In other cases against Yamaha, plaintiffs had argued there were problems with the Rhino's stability which caused the vehicle to roll over easily.
Yamaha had argued the accident was caused by the driver's speed and steering outputs, claiming the driver was reckless and had aggressively misused the Rhino in a contravention of clear warnings. The award was given in compensation of pain and suffering damages, medical expenses, lost wages, future lost wages, and loss of consortium. There were no punitive damages awarded in this case. The jury was swayed by the fact that Yamaha had not performed any testing specific to "occupant containment and safety."
The plaintiff's argument of the vehicle not containing a barrier to keep the rider's legs inside the vehicle is a strict liability claim that falls under the tort laws. The medical bills were proof harm had been done. The plaintiffs would have to prove the Rhino ATV was what had caused the harm, which would have required witnesses. The extensive tests that were performed on the Rhino ATV proved by a professional that the vehicle was defective in respects to the seat belt restraint system and the fact it did not contain any measures to keep the occupant's extremities inside the occupant department in case of a tip over backed up the plaintiff's argument. The extensive testing also had proven the Rhino ATV was considered dangerous under the conditions of the seat belt restraint and the absence of the netting to contain the occupant's extremities.
The strict liability claim where other cases had mentioned the stability of the Rhino ATV was not proven with the professional testing in this case and would have had to have been proven in the other cases. The stability of the Rhino as being easily tipped over is another claim of strict liability that could render the Rhino ATV as a dangerous defective product, more especially where there had been injuries to the consumers. With over 100 cases filed against Yamaha, it could have constituted a huge amount of compensation to injured consumers among all the cases.
The compensation that was paid in this particular case was adequate for the injuries and suffering of the plaintiffs. When someone gets hurt, they lose wages until they have recuperated to return to the capacity they had before the injury. Consumers suffer a great amount during these accidents. Where the injury was because of the product they purchased, the manufacturer should pay compensation because they manufactured the product.
The jury persuasion of Yamaha not having performed any occupant testing could also be considered negligence in this case as well. Manufacturers are responsible under the state statutes based on the Uniform Commercial Code to ensure safety of the products they manufacture and sell to consumers. Occupant safety testing should have been performed before the product was manufactured for sale to consumers. The absence of the occupant testing could help a plaintiff prove the product was dangerous because of negligence on behalf of the manufacturer.
In August 2007, Yamaha introduced a special offer to consumer owners of the Rhino ATVs. The announcement indicated Yamaha would install doors and an additional passenger handhold free of charge. The announcement also indicated the features would become standard equipment for all Rhino ATVs manufactured after that date. The announcement was before the test case in Gwinnett County, GA, indicating that Yamaha already knew the product was dangerous. This could have also been a defense in that case, as well as other subsequent cases.
In March 2009, Yamaha announced a Voluntary Repair Campaign program to implement repairs to the Rhino intended to help reduce the chance of rollover and improve vehicle handling. In addition the announcement encouraged Rhino ATV owners that had vehicles without doors and the passenger handhold to have them installed on their vehicles. This announcement was also before the Gwinnett County, GA test case and could have also been included as a defense in that case, as well as other subsequent cases. This indicates there was proof the Rhino ATV had a stability problem that caused it to be easily rolled over and a barrier problem that prevented safety to the occupants.
In either announcement, there was no mention of the seatbelt restraint system as part of the corrections opposed. The seatbelt restraint system was proven to be defective because it had too much roll out before locking in time to provide a restraint safety to the occupant in case of a tip over. It is not indicated that the seatbelt system would be under repair when the vehicles were brought in for repair or the installation of the doors and passenger handhold features. Yamaha could have corrected the seatbelt restraint system for future manufactured ATVs, but it was not indicated as part of the repairs on the existing vehicles.
Product liability is governed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission under the Consumer Product Safety Act. The Consumer Product Safety Commission oversees the safety of products in efforts to reduce consumer injury and deaths due to defective products. Each state enacts comprehensive product liability statutes based on the Model Uniform Products Liability Act and the Uniform Commercial Code, Article 2, sections 2-314 and 2-315 (Products Liability, 2010). Product liability law is mainly common law, or judge-made law, and derived mainly from tort law. Strict liability under tort law is established when a particular action causes damage incurred from civil wrongs of acts or omissions. Strict liability claims requires a plaintiff to prove that harm was done, prove the product was defective, prove the defectiveness of the product caused the harm, and prove the defect rendered the product dangerous.
The Model Uniform Product Liability Act was implemented to ensure that persons injured by unreasonable unsafe products receive reasonable compensation for their injuries. And, to place the incentive for loss prevention on the party or parties who are best able to accomplish that goal, which in this case is Yamaha. The Uniform Commercial Code controls commercial transactions in the sale of goods and services.