$11 Million Jury Verdict in Toyota Design Defect Case

A federal jury has entered an $11 million verdict for victims of the design defect of the 1996 Toyota Camry.

The jurors indicated that Toyota was 60% at fault for the 2006 crash that left two people dead and two seriously injured. They also found that another defendant, Koua Fong Lee, who had insisted that he tried to stop his car before it slammed into another vehicle, was 40% at fault for the crash. Lee and his family members, the family of a girl who died and two others who were seriously injured, sued Toyota Motor Corp. in the United States District Court in Minneapolis, Minn.

The lawsuit alleged this crash was caused by the acceleration defect in Lee’s Toyota. Toyota maintained that there was no design defect and that Lee was negligent and the sole cause of the crash.

After the verdict, Toyota released a statement that the company respected the jury’s decision but believes that the evidence clearly showed the vehicle was not the accident’s cause. The company said it would study the record and consider its legal options on whether to take an appeal.

In 2006, Lee was convicted of vehicular homicide and sentenced to prison. He wanted a new trial after a court document surfaced about the sudden acceleration in some Toyotas, and questions were raised about the adequacy of his defense counsel. Prosecutors in the criminal case opted against a retrial, and Lee went free after spending 2 ½ years behind bars. He later sued for damages because of what he believed to be his unlawful arrest and conviction.

As would be the case in Illinois, Minnesota law allows a jury to allocate fault. But unlike Illinois’ joint and several liability statutes, in this Minnesota verdict, Toyota is responsible for paying all of the damages less 40% of the amount awarded by the jury to Lee. In Illinois, if the defendant were found by the jury to be at least 25% at fault, as compared to the other parties to the lawsuit, including the plaintiff, the plaintiff could collect the entire verdict from Toyota because of its joint and several liability statute. 735 ILCS 5/2-1117.

During the jury trial, the Lee family attorney argued that the defect in the cars’ design was the cause of the crash. The jury was told that the Camry’s auto-drive assembly could stick, and when tapped or pushed, it could stick again at a higher speed. The Lee family also accused Toyota of never conducting reliability tests on nylon resin pulleys that could be damaged under heat and caused the throttle to stick.

In defense, Toyota’s lawyer argued that the 1996 Camry was free from a design defect. It was also argued that Lee was an inexperienced driver and mistook the gas pedal for the brake.

The Lee crash killed the driver of the other vehicle, Javis Trice-Adams Sr. and his 9-year-old son, Javis Trice-Adams Jr. They were not a part of this lawsuit. However, Trice-Adams’s 6-year-old niece, Devyn Bolton, was paralyzed and died in October 2007. The jury awarded her estate $4 million. Jassmine Adams, the 12-year-old daughter of Trice-Adams, was seriously injured and was awarded $4 million. Quincy Ray Adams, the father of Jassmine Adams, was seriously injured and was awarded $1.25 million by the jury.

There are other pending Toyota lawsuits yet to be adjudicated by the court and juries around the country.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling automotive defect lawsuits, car accident cases, truck accident cases and bicycle accident cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Tinley Park, Chicago Heights, Chicago Ridge, Arlington Heights, Prospect Heights, Mount Prospect, Elk Grove Village, Antioch, Gurnee, Round Lake Beach, Schiller Park, Hinsdale, Cicero, Salk Village, South Barrington, South Holland, Western Springs, Calumet City, Bensenville, Blue Island, Chicago (Roscoe Village, Wicker Park, Bucktown, Old Town, Greek Town, Chinatown, Little Italy, Albany Park), Berwyn, Hillside and Hoffman Estates, Ill.

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