Summary Judgment Upheld after Rhino Rollover

Posted on September 2nd, 2014 by sutteroconnell

An Ohio Court of Appeals has upheld summary judgment in favor of the Defendant-manufacturer after Plaintiff failed to produce expert testimony to support his design defect claim after a rollover accident.  Plaintiff suffered injuries while riding as a passenger on a Yamaha Rhino, an off-road recreational utility vehicle.  He filed suit against Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A., asserting the Rhino “unexpectedly rolled over while being properly driven”.  Plaintiff also asserted the Rhino had been the subject of a recall, sufficient to prove the recreational vehicle contained a defect, and that expert testimony was not necessary because the “the concept of widening the wheelbase of a vehicle to reduce the likelihood of a rollover seems quite simple rather than highly complicated.”

The Fourth District disagreed.  In its holding, the Court of Appeals noted that the design and stability of off-road recreational vehicles are more akin to automobiles and are not matters within the common knowledge of a lay person.  While laypersons may be familiar with rollover risks generally, without the benefit of expert testimony they cannot adequately evaluate whether a rollover risk constitutes a design defect.  As the Court stated, “simply because the vehicle rolled over does not, standing alone, establish a design defect claim.”

The Opinion reinforces long-standing principles of Ohio product liability law in general and specifically the need for expert testimony on highly technical questions of science and engineering.  The full text of the opinion can be found here.