The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a $11.4 million verdict awarded in a suit involving an unintended acceleration defect that caused a fatal Toyota car crash. The appellate panel found that the jury was presented with sufficient evidence to determine that the 1996 Camry involved in a 2006 crash, which killed three people and left two injured, contained a design defect.
The panel rejected Toyota’s argument that the lower court abused its discretion in allowing three witnesses to testify about similar incidents of sudden acceleration in other 1996 Camrys, saying the judge was in the best position to decide if that evidence would be “unduly distracting” to the jurors in the case.
The ruling stems from a 2006 accident, when driver Koua Fong Lee rear-ended an Oldsmobile after exiting a highway. The Oldsmobile’s driver, Javis Trice-Adams Sr., and his son were instantly killed. Devyn Bolton, a relative and a passenger in the Oldsmobile 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.
Lee was imprisoned for more than two years after being found guilty of negligent homicide in 2008, but was released when his conviction was overturned because of the fact that Toyota had recalled millions of vehicles due to a defect that could cause unintended acceleration.
The Trice-Adams family sued Toyota in 2010, alleging a defect in the Camry caused it to suddenly accelerate. Lee and his family intervened as Plaintiffs later that year. It was contended in the lawsuit that the accelerator got stuck in a “near wide-open position.”
Regarding the evidence of other similar incidents, the Eighth Circuit declined to hold a series of “mini-trials” regarding their admissibility, saying instead that the record showed that circumstances of those incidents were substantially similar to the 2006 accident. The appeals court did find that the lower court erred in awarding the Trice-Adams family prejudgment interest.
Trice is represented by Eric J. Magnuson of Robins Kaplan LLP, W.B. Markovits, Paul M. DeMarco, Louise M. Roselle and Eric J. Kmetz of Markovits Stock & DeMarco LLC, and Kenneth R. White of the Law Office of Kenneth R. White PC.
Lee is represented by Larry Espel and Xiaochuan Kevin Zhao of Greene & Espel, Rudy Gonzales Jr., Robert C. Hilliard, John M. Martinez, Thomas Pinedo, Marion M. Reilly, Catherine D. Tobin and Austin Webber of Hilliard Munoz Gonzales LLP, and Brent Schafer of Schafer Law Firm.
The case is Adams et al. v. Toyota Motor Corp. et al., (case numbers 15-2507, 15-2511, 15-2516, 15-2635, 15-2636, 15-2637 and 15-2638) in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.