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Defense Verdict in Five Week Yamaha Rhino Trial

Los Angeles County, CA
Apr 15, 2011

McAnelly v. Yamaha

CASE RESULTS DEPEND UPON A VARIETY OF FACTORS UNIQUE TO EACH CASE. CASE RESULTS DO NOT GUARANTEE OR PREDICT A SIMILAR RESULT IN ANY FUTURE CASE.

On April 15, 2011, after a five week trial, a Los Angeles County, California, jury found no defect and delivered another major verdict in favor of Yamaha in a case involving the Yamaha Rhino off-road vehicle.

Plaintiff Clifford McAnelly alleged that stability and headlight design defects in a 2006 Rhino 660 vehicle caused his injuries in an accident that occurred when he was thrown from the cargo area of the Rhino after the driver lost control and the vehicle rolled. The vehicle was being driven by an unlicensed minor, Shannon Weller (age 14) at the time. Weller had only begun operating the Rhino minutes before the accident, which occurred at approximately 9:00 pm at the Competitive Edge Motor Cross Park in Hesperia, California on November 25, 2006. Brooklyn Reeves (age 14) was the front passenger, and 3 other boys (ages 5-14) accompanied McAnelly in the cargo box. None of the vehicle’s occupants were wearing helmets.

Weller claimed she was driving at approximately 15 mph down a dirt road with a slight incline when she swerved to avoid a rock. She lost control and the vehicle rolled at least 1 ¼ times. The other occupants of the vehicle estimated Weller’s speed to be as high as 35 mph. Weller and Reeves were belted, and remained in the vehicle. Reeves was uninjured, and Weller received minor arm injuries. Plaintiff Clifford McAnelly suffered a traumatic brain injury, a left arm fracture (requiring insertion of a 9” steel plate) and diminished right hand motor skills. He was transported to Loma Linda University Medical Center in San Bernardino, CA in critical condition. He was hospitalized for 65 days and claimed permanent brain injury. Clifford McAnelly’s mother, Luann Bryson, was also a plaintiff and sought recovery of Clifford's medical expenses.

Yamaha defended the stability of the Rhino, as well as its headlight design. Yamaha’s experts established that the Rhino’s headlights far exceeded the requirements of SAE Headlight Standard J1623, and that brighter headlights would not have illuminated the curved accident road any more than those of the Rhino. Yamaha’s experts also showed through a detailed reconstruction that the 14 year-old driver of the Rhino was going far faster than she claimed, and likely lost control after driving off the road. Finally, Yamaha’s experts showed that a helmet would have prevented plaintiff’s head injuries.

Plaintiffs, who also sued Reeves Generator, Inc., whom they alleged owned the Rhino and negligently entrusted it to Weller, asked the jury to award more than $6 Million. Plaintiffs had entered into pretrial settlements totaling more than $1.1 Million with driver Shannon Weller, passenger Brooklyn Reeves, and Brooklyn’s parents, John and Cathy Reeves. Plaintiffs had also settled with Dean Berlin, a friend of the McAnelly family who was McAnelly’s custodian at the time of the crash.

Yamaha’s counsel said, “The safety of Yamaha’s Rhino has again been affirmed by a jury. This marks the fourth jury in California and seventh jury in a row to reject plaintiff claims regarding the Rhino."

”This strong trial record underscores that Yamaha can and will successfully defend this award winning product," said Yamaha's counsel Tim Mattson of Bowman and Brooke. “This verdict once again sends a clear message that the Rhino is a safe, well-designed and defect free vehicle."

Plaintiff’s witnesses included Walter Kosmatka, lighting expert from Highland Heights, Ohio and Randy Nelson, handling and stability and lighting expert from Escondido, California; rehabilitation and physical medicine doctor, Dr. Thomas Hedge from Northridge, California, neuropsychologist, Dr. Robin Timm from Napa, California, Life Care Planner, Martha Health from Los Angeles, California, psychiatrist, Dr. Lester Zackler from Sherman Oaks, California, orthopaedist, Dr. Behrooz Broukhim from North Hollywood, California, economist, Dr. Jubin Merati from Los Angeles, California.

Yamaha’s witnesses included accident reconstructionist, Kris Kubly from Madison, Wisconsin, lighting and off-road vehicle expert, Kevin Breen from Ft. Myers, Florida, biomechanic, Dr. Harry Smith from San Antonio, Texas, and psychiatrist Dr. James Rosenberg from Woodland Hills, California.

Reeves Generators’ witnesses included vocational rehabilitationist, Alessandro Anfuso from Diamond Bar, California.

Plaintiffs were represented by Deborah Perlman and Paul S. Sigelman from Beverly Hills, California.

Reeves Generators was represented by Toni Kern from Glendale, California.

Yamaha was represented by Timothy Mattson, and Scott Stockdale of the national product liability defense firm Bowman and Brooke. Stockdale is in the firm’s Los Angeles, California office, and Mattson is in the firm’s Minneapolis, Minnesota office.

Clifford McAnelly and Luann Bryson, plaintiffs vs. Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A., Yamaha Motor Manufacturing Corporation of America, Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd., Transport Recreation dba Bend Recreation, and Reeves Generator, Inc., defendants. Superior Court of the State of California, County of Los Angeles, Case No: BC397174, Judge Michael Solner, presiding.

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