A jury in Minnesota federal court found that an accelerator flaw in a 1996 Toyota Camry was the cause of a 2006 fatal car crash in the state and ordered Toyota Motor Corp. to pay almost $11 million. According to plaintiffs’ lawyers, Toyota was found 60 percent liable for the crash while the driver, Koua Fong Lee, was found 40 percent responsible.
The plaintiffs have claimed that the crash was a result of a fault in the accelerator causing it to become stuck, and the brakes failed to work. The carmaker, however, denied that the Camry was at fault, saying the driver had been negligent. A spokeswoman for Toyota, Amanda Rice, said the carmaker was weighing its legal options.
A lawsuit was filed against Toyota on behalf of passengers injured or killed in a 2006 crash in St. Paul, Minnesota. In June 2006, Lee and his family were driving home from church when his 1996 Toyota Camry abruptly accelerated to around 90 mph and then rear ended another car, an Oldsmobile Ciera.
The incident resulted to the death of three people and injury to others. Killed were the driver of the Javis Trice-Adams Sr., 33, and his son, nine-year old Javis Jr. Adams's six-year-old niece, Devyn Bolton, was left paralyzed. Bolton, however, later died. The Ciera also had two other passengers -- Adam’s father and his daughter. Both were seriously injured by the car accident, but nonetheless, both managed to survive.
Since there were no skid marks, authorities concluded that Lee did not initiate the brakes before the crash. Lee has maintained that he did try putting the car into brakes, but the Camry failed to respond. Nine months later, Lee was charged with two counts of criminal vehicular homicide as well as three counts of criminal vehicular injury.
Lee went to trial in Ramsey County Circuit Court in October 2007. Accident reconstruction experts testified that the Camry was travelling as speeds of between 72 mph and 92 mph when the crash happened. Lee was convicted by a jury on Oct. 12, 2007, getting an eight-year prison sentence. Eight days later, Bolton died.
Two years later, in 2009, a number of Toyota drivers complained about sudden acceleration, and the Japanese carmaker initiated a recall of its cars, excluding the 1996 Camry. Lee’s new attorney pointed out that the Camry had anti-lock brakes, which explains the absence of skid marks even if the brakes were initiated.
Based on this new evidence, Lee filed a motion for a new trial. In 2010, Lee won a motion to set aside his conviction, and was released from prison.