Exclusive CBS News Investigation Finds 59 Deaths, Hundreds Of Injuries Linked To Yamaha’s Off-Road Vehicle

In the swath of Kentucky called the Land Between The Lakes, the Turkey Bay Off-Highway Vehicle Area is a rugged expanse of hills and woodlands crisscrossed by 100 miles of trails. Test drivers came here in July, 2002, to try out the Yamaha Rhino, a new breed of off-road vehicle then in development, and had a mishap that would resonate years later.

Keisuke “Casey” Yoshida, president of a U.S. subsidiary of Yamaha Motor Co. Ltd., was behind the wheel of a Rhino prototype. Ike Miyachi, a company vice president in charge of Rhino development, rode beside him in the passenger seat. After descending a long hill to flat ground, the Rhino tipped over, giving Miyachi a foot injury.

At a meeting weeks later, Yoshida raised a question that now seems prophetic. “Casey wants update on instability of vehicle for future liability cases,” according to minutes obtained by CBS News.

The Rhino was a hit, with more than 150,000 sold after its introduction 15 months later in fall, 2003. But the vehicle, which looks like a cross between a golf cart with attitude, and an all-terrain vehicle, or ATV, is at the center of a legal firestorm. At least 59 riders have been killed in Rhino accidents, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. More than 440 wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits are pending, and Yamaha has settled others. Many stem from rollovers in which drivers or passengers fell or were flung through the open door space to the ground, then smashed by the 1,100 pound vehicle. Adults and children as young as 3 years old have suffered gruesome injuries, including amputated limbs and crushed legs, arms or heads.

Read more: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/08/04/cbsnews_investigates/main5213784.shtml