Friday, February 6, 2015

2 sentenced to prison after fatal TOYOTA accidents


Local attorney works to free pair

2 sentenced to prison after fatal accidents

CORPUS CHRISTI - To Corpus Christi attorney Bob Hilliard, the case against Toyota is about more than just winning judgments for the clients he represents in civil cases against the Japanese automaker. It's also about freeing those who he believes are the wrongfully imprisoned.
Hilliard has signed on to help two men serving prison time as the result of fatal crashes involving 1990s model Toyota Camrys.

One of those cases is that of Koua Fong Lee, a 32-year-old St. Paul, Minn., man serving an eight-year sentence. He was convicted in 2007 of criminal vehicular homicide in connection with a 2006 crash that killed three people.

Lee has said all along that he tried to use the brakes to stop the car.

Hilliard said he contacted Lee's attorney when he learned about the case and offered to help.

"I said, ‘I'm happy to help pro bono. I have experts that can help prove that the problem is a defect that is in the car, not the man,' " Hilliard said.
Neither of the Camrys involved in the cases of the imprisoned men was on the recall list, something Hilliard doesn't think is a problem. He believes the accelerator issues go back farther than those on the recall list.

An inspection in April of Lee's vehicle found he had used the brakes but that there had been issues with the accelerator throttle and cruise control, he said.

Hilliard said he also has about a dozen affidavits from people who drove the same make and model as Lee's vehicle — a 1996 Toyota Camry — which confirm they, too, experienced incidents of sudden acceleration.

Hilliard has made at least half a dozen trips to Minnesota for the case. He's visited Lee in prison and met Lee's wife.

If Lee wins a new trial, Hilliard plans to be by his side in court. He also wants the people who signed the affidavits to testify about their experiences.

No hearing on the motion for new trial has been set, but many of the people already have said they'd be there.
Hilliard also is helping in the criminal case of Abdelfattah Marzouk, an Egyptian-American who is in prison because of a 2006 fatal crash in Tigard, Ore. He had been driving a 1994 Toyota Camry.

Hilliard hopes to exonerate Marzouk and show the crash was related to sudden acceleration. Officials there have agreed to reinspect Marzouk's vehicle.
His firm also was hired by the family of a Spring Arbor, Mich., man who was critically injured in a May 18 crash in Jackson County, Mich.
Christopher Ball, 37, was driving a 1996 Toyota Camry that struck the back of a tractor-trailer. Ball's car then spun and was struck by another tractor-trailer.
Authorities have said Ball was passing vehicles at a high rate of speed and traveling in a lane closed for construction, according to Jackson Citizen Patriot reports.
Hilliard said any possible ties to sudden, unexpected acceleration won't be known until Ball awakens from a coma.


Corpus Christi attorney Bob Hilliard is board certified in personal injury and civil trial law. In addition to his involvement in the recent Toyota suits, some of his other high-profile cases include:

Slough vs. Spohn

Hilliard represented the family of slain nurse Debra Slough, who was kidnapped from a Christus Spohn Hospital Shoreline parking lot on Sept. 11, 2005, and later found dead in Bee County. The lawsuit accused the health system of negligence in providing security. An undisclosed agreement was reached in 2007 during jury selection for the trial.

The ‘State School Fight Club' lawsuit

Hilliard is representing several of the facility's former residents in a lawsuit filed last year against several Department of Aging and Disability Services officials related to videotaped fights between residents with mental disabilities.

Davis vs. Ocwen
Hilliard has successfully tried two cases against Ocwen Loan Services, LLC on allegations of predatory lending. One involved a Corpus Christi home valued at $75,000 that resulted in a $3.5 million verdict. The second involved a Galveston home valued at $15,000 that ended with a $10 million jury verdict. His law firm also was liaison counsel in the multidistrict litigation in Texas against the company.

Sanchez vs. Brownsville Sports Center Inc.
Hilliard won a $30 million verdict against Honda in a 1998 lawsuit on behalf of the parents of a 10-year-old boy who died in an all-terrain-vehicle accident. The case was appealed to the Texas Supreme Court and later settled for an undisclosed amount.
Havner vs. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals

Hilliard was one of the attorneys for Marilyn and Ernest Havner who sued the drug company on behalf of their daughter, Kelly, on allegations the morning sickness drug, Bendictin, was to blame for the girl's birth defect. The Nueces County case resulted in a $33 million verdict in 1991 for the Havners but was later reversed by the Texas Supreme Court. It was the sister case to Daubert v. Merrell Dow, which the U.S. Supreme Court used in 1993 to establish a standard for admitting expert testimony in federal cases.
Source: Caller-Times archives; attorney Bob Hilliard;

Robert C. Hilliard

Hilliard Muñoz Gonzales LLP represents clients in mass torts, personal injury, product liability, commercial and business litigation, and wrongful death matters.

Mr. Hilliard’s cases have made headlines statewide and on the national level. His advocacy for victims of accidents caused by GM's defective ignition switch led to his appointment by Federal Judge Jesse Furman as co-lead counsel in the National GM Ignition Switch Litigation. This multi-district litigation is considered the single largest product liability litigation in US history. His representation of the parents of a Corpus Christi teenager who committed suicide due to extreme bullying at his high school focused a national spotlight on the menace of bullying in schools. He led the fight for justice for disabled residents of the Corpus Christi State School who were forced to take part in an infamous “fight club” for the amusement of some staff members. Mr. Hilliard’s other high-profile cases include:
  • Winning a $25 million verdict for a workplace brain injury (net to client: $1,475,000 | expenses: $250,000 | attorney fees: $1,360,000).
  • Winning a $21.5 million verdict for an auto accident victim who suffered a back injury (net to client: $1,699,033.30 | expenses: $310,145.13 | attorney fees: $1,360,000.00). This was the largest verdict awarded in 2012 in the U.S. for a car crash victim requiring back surgery - The National Law Journal
  • Successfully representing a 92-year-old woman who broke her hip when she was injured by a sliding door in a hospital. The jury awarded $6.4 million, which was the third highest verdict in Texas in 2011 (net to client: $1,694,663.86 | expenses: $92,836.14 | attorney fees: $1,462,500.00) -
  • Representing the families of Mexican citizens (one an unarmed 15-year-old) killed by U.S. Border Patrol agents, which garnered international media and sparked a confrontation between President Calderon and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
  • Winning two notable cases against Ocwen Loan Services for allegations of predatory lending
  • Helping free a Hmong man wrongfully convicted of criminal vehicular homicide in Minnesota. The Innocence Project of Minnesota honored Mr. Hilliard for his work by giving him the organization‘s first “Never Forgotten Award.” He was also named a finalist for the Public Justice Foundation’s prestigious “Trial Lawyer of the Year” award in 2011.
  • Serving as liaison counsel for the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee against Toyota for the widely reported unintended acceleration litigation
  • Fighting for victims of the FEMA Trailer Formaldehyde incidents
  • Acting as lead counsel in a class action suit against H&R Block, which resulted in a rapid refund to approximately 300,000 Texans

Mr. Hilliard received his undergraduate degree in English literature from St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas where he graduated summa cum laude. A four-year letterman in tennis, Mr. Hilliard won numerous awards and championships and was inducted into the
St. Edward's Athletics Hall of Fame. In 1983, he graduated with honors from St. Mary’s Law School in San Antonio. While attending St. Mary's Law School, he served as the associate editor of the St. Mary’s Law Journal. Upon receiving his Juris Doctor degree, Mr. Hilliard began his legal career at the Law Offices of Guy Allison in Corpus Christi. He established his own practice in 1985, which is now Hilliard Muñoz Gonzales LLP, and then Hilliard Shadowen LLC in 2012.

Mr. Hilliard has been featured on ABC World News Tonight, Good Morning America, FOX News, 60 Minutes and other national and international media. A 2011 cover story in NSIDE magazine called Mr. Hilliard, “The Champion.” That same year, Texas Super Lawyers magazine featured an article about him entitled, “The Bulldog.”