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Court of Appeals addresses a rare Michigan product liability claim

Gregg Tuttle is a Yuper who bought a Rhino from Yamaha in 2006.  Unbeknownst to him, Yamaha had tested and found the Rhino to be very unstable on turns, even at "low or reasonable" speeds.  When the President of Yamaha's French subsidiary was injured in a rollover, the French subsidiary attempted to address this problem, but Yamaha ordered it's subsidiary to desist. 

Yamaha considered installing a bar that would keep legs in the passenger compartment (after at least one other Yamaha employee was injured in a rollover), but decided the bar installation would be a "trip hazard" and did not make the change.  Instead, in 2009, at the urging of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Yamaha attempted to address the injury issue by offering a free repair kit that would lengthen the rear axle, remove the anti-sway bar, and place a stronger warning on the Rhino, telling users to "keep legs and arms in the vehicle." 

In any event, at some point Tuttle's vehicle lost stability in a low-speed turn and Tuttle's left leg was badly fractured outside the rolling vehicle body.  Tuttle testified honestly that he had no idea whether his leg fell out of the rolling vehicle or whether he instinctively reacted by extending his leg as one would when operating an unstable motorcycle.

Yamaha argued that Tuttle's concession that he may have voluntarily extended his leg outside the paasenger compartment, made any testimony about how he was injured "speculative" and made him solely responsible for his injury. Unfortunately, the Circuit Court judge bought this argument and dismissed Tuttle's claim.  On appeal, Tuttle's attorneys were able to reverse this result in the higher court.  The Court of Appeals' panel unanimously ruled that even if Tuttle reacted to the rolling vehicle by extending his leg, a reasonable jury could decide that his actions were a foreseeable response to a dangerous condition created by the manufacturer's negligence.  Therefore, the case should be decided by the jury and not on summary disposition.

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