In 2003, the Yamaha Rhino ATV was introduced into the market.While anticipating the debut of the Rhino, one magazine described it as a machine that will “haul two people, carry loads of gear, and eat up the off-road trail.” Despite its popularity since its introduction, a disproportionate number of Rhino accidents have been reported in the past five years, some resulting in serious injuries and death. Consumers began questioning the safety of the Rhino, and the manufacturer answered with design modifications and after-market safety features, but the question remains – is it enough?
What is a “Rhino”?
The Yamaha Rhino is an All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) that holds two people and is larger than a typical ATV, but smaller than a car. The 2003 models featured a “660cc, 4-stroke single, 5-valve SOHC,” which allows Rhinos to accelerate easily. These machines are used for hunting, hauling and working on farms. Recreation, however, has remained a major purpose of the Yamaha Rhino. Recent advertisements for Rhino upgrades even target families, and feature back-seat add-ons to hold more people. Additional upgrades include custom plates, light kits, more comfortable seats, and higher horsepower. Some Rhinos can even reach speeds of fifty-five miles per hour.
While all vehicles have the potential to be in accidents, Rhino accidents have been reported dating back to the first year on the market, and have risen with each year. Surprisingly, reports show accidents occurring on relatively flat ground and at low speeds. Rhino accidents have been reported ever since they were first introduced in 2003.
Yamaha Motor Corporation finally took action in addressing the issue three years after Rhino accidents began to occur. In September 2006, a letter was sent to Yamaha Rhino owners stating that Rhinos are prone to tip during sharp turns. The letter intimated operator error, and did not accept any fault for possible design defects. This letter gave advice to users including that they wear their seatbelts and keep their arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times. Finally, in 2007, Yamaha acknowledged some problems with the Rhino by offering free modifications to owners of Rhinos, including doors and handholds.Still, despite the hundred of accidents involving injuries and sometimes even death, there has been no recall of the Rhinos.
Why Are Rhinos dangerous?
Why are there so many Rhino accidents? Critics of the Rhino blame several design decisions for the number of Rhino accidents. Such alleged defects include:
- A high center of gravity,
- small wheels, and
- a narrow wheel base. 
There have also been allegations that the Rhino does not adequately protect passengers in the event of an accident. Critics state that these Rhinos can rollover and cause serious injuries or death even at low speeds. Since many believe that the design of the Rhinos make them unsafe, some victims have begun taking action against Yamaha for its design of the Rhino.
Rhino Accidents Lead to Litigation
“It is written, ‘He who saves one life, saves the entire world.’ That is why our family dhas filed suit against Yamaha. The Rhino vehicle is unsafe and a poses a grave hazard to its riders.” – Heidi Crow (mother of J.T. Crow who died in an ATV Rhino rollover)
The number of Rhino accidents and the often catastrophic injuries that result from these accidents has led many consumers and victims to begin filing lawsuits against Yamaha for these Rhinos. Many victims claim that they were operating their Rhinos in a safe manner, but that the Rhino itself was unreasonably dangerous. The typical causes of action filed against Yamaha are for strict liability, negligence, and breach of warranty. Many lawsuits filed regarding the Rhinos specifically identify the design of the Rhinos as unreasonably dangerous.
On June 22, 2007, J.T. Crow was properly buckled into a Yamaha Rhino as a passenger. Allegedly, this Rhino rolled over at a low speed, and despite being belted, the lack of doors caused him to be ejected. J.T. Crow died of his injuries. J.T. Crow was only nine years old at the time of this accident. The Crow family is bringing a lawsuit against Yamaha for the wrongful death of their son, alleging that the Rhino is prone to roll at low speeds because of “inherent flaws in its design.”
Ryan Rogers was also a passenger in a Yamaha Rhino when it allegedly rolled over on “relatively flat terrain.” After suffering severe injuries as a result, he filed a lawsuit alleging that the ATV was “in a defective condition, unreasonably dangerous, and not fit for its intended use and reasonably foreseeable purposes.” Mr. Rogers’ complaint alleges that Rhinos are prone to rollovers because of their design even when being operated at low speeds on relatively flat terrain. These are two of the numerous lawsuits pending nationwide.
While Yamaha has taken some steps by sending warnings to consumers and offering safety add-ons for the Rhino, accidents due to low-speed rollovers are still occurring. As these accidents occur, litigation will follow. It remains to be seen whether Yahama will accept the allegations that Rhino is unreasonably dangerous. While too late for those who have been injured or killed in a Rhino accident, the goal of litigation is to promote significant improvements in the design and therefore the safety of this all-terrain vehicle.