What Does Wanton Mean?

What does wanton mean? We know it is more than mere negligence. But what rises to the level of wanton? The Alabama Supreme Court took this issue on in a personal injury claim with a wantonness count in the ongoing Yamaha Rhino litigation in McMahon v. Yamaha Motor Corporation.

Quick facts Plaintiff was hurt when a Yamaha Rhino off-road utility vehicle rolled over. Plaintiffs in this case allege that the Rhino (1) rolls over very easily, even at relatively low speeds, and (2) when it rolls over, the occupant is not protected. As a result of the former, there are a great many rollover accidents.

Yamaha received summary judgment on plaintiff’s wanton conduct claim and won a defense verdict at trial (to the surprise of many).

The court defined wantonness as “the conscious doing of some act or the omission of some duty while knowing of the existing conditions and being conscious that, from doing or omitting to do an act, injury will likely or probably result.” Plaintiff’s argument was that Yamaha knew the failure to recall the Yamaha Rhino was bound to cause injury, yet they did nothing. The Alabama Supreme Court agreed and reversed the entry of summary judgement. Plaintiffs win. Yeah!

Wait, not so fast. The court found that while the trial court may have made a mistake, because the jury found there was no negligence, the error is harmless. I wish the jury had made a different call. But I think this is the only fair ruling.

You can read the full opinion here.

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