A New Lenox man who was paralyzed from the waist down after losing control of his motorcycle while jumping dirt mounds six years ago was awarded $24 million Monday by a Cook County Circuit Court jury.
Anthony O'Brien, 28, alleged during the trial that the carburetor on his 1996 YZ125 Yamaha stuck open as he approached his jump, causing the motorcycle to accelerate, said his attorney, Martin Healy.
O'Brien, who already had made about 10 jumps that day on his friend's farm outside Manhattan in Will County, landed on his buttocks, fracturing his spine, Healy said.
"We believe that he certainly was capable of doing what he was doing that day," Healy said. "Yamaha says he gave too much throttle as he was going up the ramp."
The jury delivered its verdict against Yamaha Motor Corp. U.S.A. and its parent company, Yamaha Motor Co. of Japan. The jury deliberated about five hours Monday after the month long trial, Healy said. An attorney for Yamaha declined to comment on the verdict Monday and would not say whether the company would appeal.
O'Brien had owned a smaller motorcycle and rode regularly as a boy and into his early teens. He later rode all-terrain vehicles and other friends' motorcycles until he bought the Yamaha two weeks before the accident.
Attorneys for Yamaha attacked his riding experience, but Healy said O'Brien had maintained his skill level.
A week before the accident, O'Brien noticed that the motorcycle would hesitate for a few seconds in returning to idle after he released the throttle, Healy said. The hesitation did not occur consistently, and O'Brien and his friends who examined the motorcycle could not determine the cause of the problem.
During the trial, Healy said he presented evidence that showed the chrome plating on the carburetor slide had started to peel, causing the slide to stick open and inject fuel into the engine after the throttle was released.
Yamaha attorneys argued that peeling chrome would not impair the function of the motorcycle, Healy said. However, Healy said he introduced evidence that showed such peeling was a violation of Japanese industrial standards.
On the day of the accident, O'Brien and three friends were jumping a pair of dirt mounds 3 to 4 feet high and about 12 feet apart. When O'Brien crashed, he launched off one mound and landed a few feet past the second one, Healy said.