CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas, June 9, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Today, the 8th Circuit issued an order affirming the jury's award in a case involving a defective Toyota Camry which resulted in the death of three individuals and a man spending nearly three years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
On August 5, 2010, Koua Fong Lee, a Hmong immigrant, was released from prison after serving two and a half years of an eight-year prison sentence, wrongfully convicted of criminal vehicular homicide. Mr. Lee and his family were involved in a car accident on June 10, 2006 after a trip home from a family celebration at church turned deadly. Upon exiting the highway onboard his 1996 Toyota Camry, Mr. Lee's brakes failed, causing a violent rear-end collision that led to the death of three passengers in another vehicle and seriously injured two others. Mr. Lee's vehicle experienced sudden unintended acceleration caused by a design defect in Toyota's fleet. While Toyota had kept consumers and the public in the dark about prior incidents of sudden unintended acceleration, Mr. Lee was nonetheless forced to spend over two years in prison, until a new trial was granted to prove that Toyota's design defect was the true cause of the deadly accident. Upon this showing the State had no other recourse but to drop all charges against Mr. Lee.
In February 2015, in a subsequent civil trial, a jury found that Toyota was liable for design defects and awarded a total of $11.4 million—the single largest verdict against Toyota for sudden unintended acceleration.
In an effort to avoid the multi-million-dollar award, in March of 2015 Toyota asked the Court to declare that the Toyota Camry involved in the accident did not have a design defect or to grant the automaker a new trial— alleging there was no evidence presented at trial to support the finding that the accident was caused by a design defect.
In June of 2015, the trial judge, Judge Montgomery, issued an order stating, "The jury deliberated for five days before reaching its unanimous verdict. The Court is convinced the jury discharged their duties diligently and with care. The verdict did not result in a miscarriage of justice warranting a new trial." Toyota appealed that decision to the 8th Circuit.
One of the primary issues on appeal was the admissibility of evidence of other similar incidents. The 8th Circuit held that: "We decline to require a series of mini-trials on the causation of Other Similar Incidents' evidence in order for the evidence to be admissible when, as here, the record demonstrates that the circumstances surrounding these Other Similar Incidents were substantially similar to the incident at issue." The Court concluded, "The plaintiffs presented sufficient evidence from which a jury could find that the 1996 Camry contained a design defect."
"The 8th Circuit opinion is well reasoned and thoughtful, sounding in strong legal precedent," said Bob Hilliard, who took on Toyota to remedy Mr. Lee's unjust conviction and who continues to fight on his behalf. "Koua and his family are finally able to begin to see the end of this Toyota-created nightmare. At every step of this case Toyota has refused to accept its clear responsibility, it has determined it would rather allow its own customers to be killed and injured, and then dishonor itself and tarnish its own image for almost a decade by denying this defect. Regardless of the justice that has now finally found its way to the Lee family, hopefully, Toyota will change its shameful conduct and game plan it relied on in this case and in the future will carefully consider its corporate responsibility when a defect kills and injures."
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