Siegel v. Yamaha et. al.
Bob Hilliard and HMG Law Firm recently represented 9-year-old Luke Siegel in a product liability suit against Yamaha, and other companies in the golf car industry. Luke suffered a traumatic brain injury, leaving him permanently disabled and confined to a wheelchair, unable to speak or feed himself, after a modified Yamaha golf car tipped over on top of him as he circled a cul-de-sac near a friend’s home.
The golf car involved in Luke’s case was a 2011 Yamaha “Drive” model designed and manufactured by Yamaha Motor Manufacturing Corporation of America, and marketed by Yamaha Golf-Car Company. As originally designed the golf car had no on-product labels warning against operation by children and no seatbelts. The Yamaha golf car was later modified with a 6-inch lift kit and oversized wheels, a common practice among Yamaha authorized dealers of used golf cars. These modifications raised the height, clearance, center of gravity, and speed of the golf car, making it unstable and unsafe – even at the lower speed range to which most golf cars are limited by design. The lift kit, large wheels, and tires were made by Madjax Inc., a company that was later purchased by a competitor in the golf car accessory industry, Nivel Parts & Manufacturing Company, LLC.
HMG brought suit on behalf of Luke and his parents, alleging that the Yamaha defendants were liable for design and warning defects, including the failure to include seat belts and clear warnings prohibiting child operation of the golf car. The Plaintiffs also contended that Majax, Inc. was liable for design and warning defects in the lift kit and large wheels because the accessories made the golf car dangerously unstable.
During the case, HMG discovered that since at least the mid-1980’s, Yamaha knew of life-threatening hazards associated with children operating golf cars. In fact, Yamaha appreciated and warned of these hazards over 30 years before the subject incident. The 1980s Yamaha on-product safety warnings stated: “NO CHILDREN TO OPERATE CAR”.
HMG also discovered that Yamaha knew for more than 30 years before the designing the subject golf car of the life-threatening hazards associated with installing unapproved modifications, such as lift kits, and that consumers should be provided with the following safety instruction: “Be sure the vehicle has not been modified; unwarranted modifications can render the car unsafe and could cause injury.”
Despite these risks, Yamaha made a business decision in the mid-1990’s to remove all safety warnings regarding the deadly hazards of children operating its golf cars. Yamaha’s corporate representatives and engineers could offer no clear explanation for why Yamaha removed these crucial safety warnings, or why Yamaha chose to omit such language from its golf cars ever since.
Shortly before trial and after intense discovery that included multiple motions by all parties, frequent and hotly contested hearings, and over 70 depositions from Stamford, Connecticut to Seattle, Washington, HMG was able to reach confidential settlement agreements with almost all of the Defendants. These settlements secured needed help for Luke and his family, who subsequently established TEAM LUK3 HOPE for Minds- a charitable foundation dedicated to assisting children and their families.¹
In April of 2018, after a three week trial against the remaining Defendants, a Dallas County jury returned a verdict of $33,500,000.00 in favor of Luke Siegel. The jury attributed responsibility for the defects and the incident between the lift-kit manufacturer, the local dealership that installed the lift kit, and Mr. Dannheim. While this was a very difficult case, HMG is proud to have represented Luke Siegel and his family against an insular industry, highly resistant to any change that might negatively affect market demand for their products – no matter the cost in human suffering.
“Sometimes doing the hardest thing and doing the right thing are the same.”