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Yamaha hit with $3.3M verdict for wanton conduct

By Jessica M. Karmasek | May 7, 2013


MONTGOMERY, Ala. (Legal Newsline) -- A jury in Montgomery, Ala., last week returned a $3.3 million verdict against the maker of a four-wheeler that severely injured a woman in 2007.

On Wednesday, after more than five hours of deliberation, the jury found in favor of plaintiff Jackie McMahon and against Yamaha.

The jury found the company, headquartered in Cypress, Calif., guilty of wanton conduct in the design, manufacture, marketing and sale of its Rhino Model 660 UTV vehicle.

The $3.3 million verdict is the largest to date in the Yamaha Rhino national litigation.

A finding of wantonness means that Yamaha acted or failed to act with a conscious and reckless disregard for the safety of its consumers, knowing that injury was likely to result.

McMahon, who was represented by Pensacola, Fla.-based Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty & Proctor PA attorneys Fred Levin, Cameron Stephenson and Aaron Watson, alleged she sustained "grievous injury" when her four-wheeler overturned on top of her, crushing her when she tried to make a right turn on flat terrain at a slow speed.

Lawyers for McMahon said the evidence against Yamaha showed that shortly after the Rhino Model 660 UTV vehicle went onto the market, consumers and even dealers began receiving reports that users were experiencing overturns while traveling at slow speeds on flat terrain.

Rather than recall the vehicle, the company continued to sell the vehicle, the lawyers said.

McMahon's lawyers said Yamaha also continued to sell the vehicle and denied any wrongdoing, despite the fact that the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission threatened to make a preliminary determination that the Rhino should be classified as a Hazard A.

A Hazard A classification is assigned where it is determined that a defect is substantially likely to cause injury or death.

"In talking to the jury after the trial, the amazing thing was that as a 12-person jury that requires a unanimous verdict, they found liability against the company almost immediately, and the reason for the five hours of deliberation was over the damages," Levin said in a statement Thursday.

Watson added, "The jury's verdict confirmed what we knew all along. Once Yamaha knew that there was a problem with this machine, they should have immediately stopped selling and corrected the problem. They did nothing. That is what this case was all about."

Yamaha countered that testimony during the trial showed that at the time of the accident McMahon was not wearing a seat belt, a helmet or any type of protective clothing, as recommended by the company.

"Yamaha is saddened whenever anyone is injured in a Yamaha product-related accident, and we urge all our customers to follow the safety guidelines posted on the Rhino and in the owner's manual, and to always operate the products in a safe and responsible manner," the company said in a statement shortly after Wednesday's decision.

"Drivers and passengers should at all times wear helmets, protective gear including over-the-ankle foot wear, and the vehicle's three-point seat belts."

The company, which has facilities in Wisconsin and Georgia and factory operations in Tennessee and Georgia, said it was "disappointed" with the jury's decision.

The trial was the second of the McMahon v. Yamaha Motor Corp U.S.A. matter.

The case was previously tried in October 2010 by another jury in Montgomery, which returned a unanimous defense verdict in favor of Yamaha on multiple Alabama Extended Manufacturer's Liability Doctrine claims.

Despite no finding of defect in the Rhino by the first Montgomery jury, the Alabama Supreme Court, upon appeal, remanded the verdict solely on the plaintiff's common law wantonness claim.

Courts in all 10 previous cases that have gone to trial, including McMahon v. Yamaha, have found in favor of Yamaha.

The company said it plans to pursue all appropriate legal remedies, including appeal.

"Yamaha stands firmly behind the Rhino and will continue to vigorously defend the product," it said. "The Rhino is a safe and useful off-road vehicle when driven responsibly, and has won many 'first in class' awards and top safety ratings in independent reviews since its introduction."

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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