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Cuenllas vs Yamaha

David Cuenllas vs Yamaha Motor Corporation, U. S. A.

This case was tried in the City of Los Angeles before Honorable Richard Khalustian, who was the equivalent of the circuit court judge in Mississippi. This case involved a thirty three year old resident of California who was riding a Yamaha Wave Runner III in the coastal waters off the Bahamas, when he was struck in the rear by another Yamaha Wave Runner III, operated by Burt Diaz.

The allegation of defect was that the Yamaha Wave Runner III could not be steered without utilizing power and in emergencies, such as the one which occurred in the Cuenllas case, the striking operator of the Yamaha Wave Runner III released the throttle and then attempted to turn, which resulted in his Yamaha Wave Runner III propelling straight ahead, striking the Plaintiff in the back, resulting in paraplegia and a torn aorta. This phenomenon is known as “off throttle steering”.
Key evidence in this case consisted of the utilization of the National Transportation Safety Board reports on the dangerousness and foreseeability of this type of accident, and the need for further design efforts to be made by the watercraft industry. Plaintiff proved that patents owned by Yamaha, but not used, would have equipped the watercraft with a rudder.

This matter proceeded to trial, and after 8 days of proof, the jury deliberated for 4 days before returning a verdict in the amount of $8,368,000.00. This was the first verdict in the United States against a watercraft manufacturer on the basis of an off throttle steering accident. The case was subsequently settled on a confidential basis.

Ralph E. Chapman, of Clarksdale, Miss., Chapman, Lewis & Swan; Lawrence D. Murray, of San Francisco’s Murray & Associates; and Arthur G. Lasmez, of Los Angeles

L. Victor Bilger Jr., of the Los Angeles office of New York’s Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker L.L.P.