|Star Tribune (@StarTribune)|
BREAKING: Toyota found "60%” responsible for fatal crash. strib.mn/1F38ny8
- Article by: RANDY FURST , Star Tribune
- Updated: February 3, 2015 - 5:00 PM
Camry driver Koua Fong Lee found 40 percent responsible by jury after four days of deliberation.
The jury in the Toyota liability trial found the automaker 60 percent responsible for a 2006 crash that caused the deaths of three people and sent a St. Paul man to prison for more than two years.
Toyota is ordered to pay about $11 million in damages to crash victims.
The six-man, six-woman jury said a design defect was partly responsible for the crash. Jurors have been deliberating since Wednesday in a lawsuit brought by Koua Fong Lee, driver of the 1996 Toyota Camry that raced up an interstate exit ramp and crashed into a car stopped at the end.
Lee was found 40 percent responsible. At a press conference on the snowy federal courthouse plaza in Minneapolis after the verdict, Lee said his life will never be the same.
Lee and other plaintiffs argued that his car experienced unintended acceleration due to a defect in the throttle system.
Lee testified that the car sped up suddenly as he was exiting Interstate 94 in St. Paul. His Camry rear-ended a 1995 Oldsmobile Ciera at the top of the eastbound exit ramp at Snelling Avenue, instantly killing the Ciera’s driver, Javis Trice-Adams, and his 9-year-old son. A 6-year-old daughter died a year later of her injuries, and another daughter was seriously injured.
Attorneys for Toyota maintained that Lee accidentally put his foot on the gas pedal instead of the brakes and that the Camry accelerator system had no defects.
Lee was convicted of criminal vehicular homicide and sentenced to eight years in prison in 2008. A massive recall of newer Toyota models because of sudden acceleration, starting in the fall of 2009, prompted attorneys to reopen Lee’s case, and Ramsey County prosecutors dismissed the charges against him in 2010.
Lee and four family members who were passengers in the Camry joined forces with family members of those in the Oldsmobile in a lawsuit against Toyota.
Jurors listened to lengthy testimony on how the accelerator system operated and heard from experts on both sides who conducted tests and drew opposite conclusions as to whether Toyota or Lee were responsible for the crash.
Bob Hilliard, Lee’s attorney, surprised Toyota lawyers by centering his closing arguments around his contention that each time Lee tapped the gas pedal, the accelerator stuck at increasingly higher speeds as he drove up the long exit ramp. He pumped the brakes several times, losing the vacuum in the brake system, Hilliard said.
Hilliard put three other drivers on the stand who testified about unintended acceleration in their Camrys.
Toyota’s attorneys said their own tests showed no problem of sticking accelerators and their examination of the brakes showed they were in good working order.
The Lee family bought the Camry four months before the accident and it was driven mostly by his wife, so he had less familiarity with the gas pedal and brakes, David Graves, Toyota attorney argued.
He said Lee panicked when he saw a line of cars stopped at the traffic light at Snelling and Concordia, and hit the accelerator rather than the brakes.
If they found Toyota responsible for the accident, U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery told jurors, they had an opportunity to award money to Lee and his family, who were passengers in his Camry, for bodily harm and emotional suffering including Lee, his wife, Panghoua it is one word on the jury form Moua, his daughter Jemee Lee, his father, Nhia Koua Lee, and his brother Nong Lee.
Jurors could also award funds for bodily harm, emotional distress and future bodily harm and distress to Jassmine Adams, who was a passenger in the Oldsmobile; Bridgette Tice and Carolyn Trice, mother and grandmother of Devyn Bolton, who died a year later at age 7; and Bolton’s grandfather, Quincy Adams, who suffered a brain injury and now walks with a cane.