Trial begins in wrongful death lawsuit

LEBANON, Ohio - A Lebanon couple is suing Yamaha Motor Corporation in the deathof their young daughter. Ellie Sand was a passenger in a YamahaRhino all terrain vehicle when it overturned in 2007. She died thenext day from her injuries.

The girl was on an outing in Oregonia with a church group whenNils McElroy began offering rides on the ATV. The vehicleoverturned, which is not a unique case involving this model ofATV.

During opening statements on Tuesday, Mike Roberts, attorney forthe family, said Yamaha rushed the product onto the market anddesigned it too narrow, too tall, and too high off the groundmaking it a risk for rollovers."The evidence will show that Yamahaknew the Rhino rolled over with great frequency and knew thatpeople would be hurt long before Ellie was hurt, they were onnotice." Roberts said.

Attorney for Yamaha, Paul Cereghini, blamed the driver, NilsMcElroy, for the accident.  He said, "The evidence is going toshow that there is a difference between a safe vehicle and safevehicle operation. This is a safe vehicle. The evidence will showthat the operation of this vehicle was not safe."

He added, "No vehicle is immune from a rollover. No vehicle isimmune from being in a crash. There is no vehicle that can protectall occupants in all kinds of crashes especially when the occupantsare not wearing safety equipment that's recommended and requiredfor use."

There are numerous lawsuits nationwide against Yamaha. The Rhinomodel is blamed for 60 deaths and hundreds of injuries. Many of thecases involve children who were thrown from the vehicle when itoverturned. They sustained injuries or some were killed when theoverturned vehicle landed on them.

An organization called Concerned Families for ATV Safety wasformed by several women whose children died in ATV accidents. Theorganization features the story of Ellie Sand on its website. Thewebsite says Ellie was pinned under the Rhino vehicle when ittipped over.

It says a medical helicopter flew Ellie to Cincinnati Children'sHospital and doctors worked for hours to try to save her. Inopening statements, it was revealed that Ellie was an organ donorand her parents' decision to do that saved the lives of three otherchildren.

In addition to Yamaha, the lawsuit also lists Clinton CountyMotor Sports, the dealer that sold the Rhino and Let It Gro, theactual owner of the vehicle as defendants. At least a dozenattorneys filled the courtroom for the defense.  The vehicleinvolved in the deadly accident was owned by Let It Gro, but notoperated by it. Nils McElroy, who was attending the outing, was thedriver. He offered to give rides to other people. He pleaded nocontest in court to the criminal charge in the girls death. Hissentence was 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. He apologized tothe family in court.

The family has a website dedicated to the memory of theirdaughter. She was a dancer and loved to read. The Lebanon PublicLibrary added an entire set of the "Little House on the Prairie"books to its collection in memory of the little girl. A Lebanondance studio also established a memorial scholarship in Ellie'sname.

Court documents show many depositions have taken place alreadyin the case. The lawsuit is asking for compensatory and punitivedamages not less than $10 million. 

The trial is expected to last for three weeks.

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