LEBANON, Ohio - A Lebanon couple is suing Yamaha Motor Corporation in the death of their young daughter. Ellie Sand was a passenger in a Yamaha Rhino all terrain vehicle when it overturned in 2007. She died the next day from her injuries.
The girl was on an outing in Oregonia with a church group when Nils McElroy began offering rides on the ATV. The vehicle overturned, which is not a unique case involving this model of ATV.
During opening statements on Tuesday, Mike Roberts, attorney for the family, said Yamaha rushed the product onto the market and designed it too narrow, too tall, and too high off the ground making it a risk for rollovers."The evidence will show that Yamaha knew the Rhino rolled over with great frequency and knew that people would be hurt long before Ellie was hurt, they were on notice." Roberts said.
Attorney for Yamaha, Paul Cereghini, blamed the driver, Nils McElroy, for the accident. He said, "The evidence is going to show that there is a difference between a safe vehicle and safe vehicle operation. This is a safe vehicle. The evidence will show that the operation of this vehicle was not safe."
He added, "No vehicle is immune from a rollover. No vehicle is immune from being in a crash. There is no vehicle that can protect all occupants in all kinds of crashes especially when the occupants are not wearing safety equipment that's recommended and required for use."
There are numerous lawsuits nationwide against Yamaha. The Rhino model is blamed for 60 deaths and hundreds of injuries. Many of the cases involve children who were thrown from the vehicle when it overturned. They sustained injuries or some were killed when the overturned vehicle landed on them.
An organization called Concerned Families for ATV Safety was formed by several women whose children died in ATV accidents. The organization features the story of Ellie Sand on its website. The website says Ellie was pinned under the Rhino vehicle when it tipped over.
It says a medical helicopter flew Ellie to Cincinnati Children's Hospital and doctors worked for hours to try to save her. In opening statements, it was revealed that Ellie was an organ donor and her parents' decision to do that saved the lives of three other children.
In addition to Yamaha, the lawsuit also lists Clinton County Motor Sports, the dealer that sold the Rhino and Let It Gro, the actual owner of the vehicle as defendants. At least a dozen attorneys filled the courtroom for the defense. The vehicle involved in the deadly accident was owned by Let It Gro, but not operated by it. Nils McElroy, who was attending the outing, was the driver. He offered to give rides to other people. He pleaded no contest in court to the criminal charge in the girls death. His sentence was 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. He apologized to the family in court.
The family has a website dedicated to the memory of their daughter. She was a dancer and loved to read. The Lebanon Public Library added an entire set of the "Little House on the Prairie" books to its collection in memory of the little girl. A Lebanon dance studio also established a memorial scholarship in Ellie's name.
Court documents show many depositions have taken place already in the case. The lawsuit is asking for compensatory and punitive damages not less than $10 million.
The trial is expected to last for three weeks.
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