Toyota Tries To Gut $11M Defect Verdict | News | HMG LLP

Toyota Tries To Gut $11M Acceleration Defect Verdict

August 31, 2017

Source: Law 360 by Lisa Ryan

Law360, New York (March 04, 2015, 1:57 PM ET) -- Toyota Motor Co. on Tuesday renewed its bid to dodge a nearly $11 million jury verdict in a suit claiming a sudden acceleration defect contributed to a fatal crash, asking a Minnesota federal court to declare that the Camry in question didn’t have any design defects or to grant the automaker a new trial.

The company told the court that no reasonable jury could have held that the 1996 Toyota Camry driven by Koua Fong Lee in a deadly 2006 accident had any inherent defects since there was no evidence presented that demonstrated any problems with the vehicle's design.

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We sympathize with the families affected by this unfortunate accident in 2006. However, based on our close review of the record, we do not believe the verdict is supported by the testimony presented at trial from plaintiffs expert and other incident witnesses. In our view, the evidence clearly demonstrated that Mr. Lee's 1996 Camry was well-designed and not the cause of this crash,†a representative for Toyota told Law360 on Wednesday.

Lee rear-ended an Oldsmobile after exiting a highway in 2006, according to court documents. The Oldsmobile's driver, Javis Trice-Adams Sr., and his 9-year-old son were instantly killed. His niece, Devyn Bolton, became a quadriplegic as a result of the crash and died 18 months later. Trice-Adams' father and daughter were also injured in the accident.

The Trice-Adams family sued Toyota in 2010, alleging a defect in the Camry caused it to suddenly accelerate. Lee and his family, who were also in the crash, intervened as plaintiffs later that year. The plaintiffs argued the accelerator got stuck in a "near wide-open position."

Lee had claimed the Camry started to accelerate by itself and didn't respond when he hit the brakes. Lee was convicted of negligent homicide in 2008 and served more than two years in prison. His conviction was overturned after Toyota's recalls of later-model cars for acceleration defects brought new attention to the case.

On Feb. 3, a jury found that Toyota was 60 percent responsible for the crash, while Lee was found ot be 40 percent responsible. Both families were awarded a combined $11.4 million, though due to Lee's partial responsibility, his $1.25 million award will be reduced to $750,000, his lawyers said at the time.

The automaker asked the court to reduce the jury verdict on Feb. 17, saying that under Minnesota law, the court should deduct the amount of insurance and other collateral source payments the plaintiffs had already received for medical bills and funeral expenses. And because the jury had found Lee to be 40 percent responsible for the crash, the automaker said at the time that he should contribute $4 million to the payment.

Toyota on Tuesday renewed a previous motion for judgment filed before the verdict, saying there was no evidence permitting the jury to find that the alleged design defect, and not Lee's pedal misapplication, caused the accident.

Robert C. Hilliard of Hilliard Munoz Gonzales LLP, an attorney for Lee, told Law360 on Wednesday that the verdict is supported by facts and that he believes it will survive Toyota's motion.

The plaintiffs are represented by Bill Markovits, Louise Roselle, Christopher D. Stock and Eric Kmetz of Markovits Stock & DeMarco LLC, Michael B. Padden of Padden & Associates LLC, Kenneth R. White of the Law Office of Kenneth R. White PC, and Anne Brockland and Amy Collignon Gunn of The Simon Law Firm PC.

Lee is represented by Robert C. Hilliard, Marion Reilly, Rudy Gonzales Jr., John B. Martinez, Catherine D. Tobin and Austin Webber of Hilliard Munoz Gonzales LLP, Brent Schafer of Schafer Law Firm PA, and X. Kevin Zhao and Larry Espel of Greene Espel PLLP.

Toyota is represented by David W. Graves, Bard D. Borkon, John D. Sear, Theodore Dorenkamp and Nathan J. Marcusen of Bowman and Brooke LLP.

The case is Trice et al. v. Toyota Motor Corp. et al., case number 0:10-cv-02804, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota.

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