The United States Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit issued a unanimous decision affirming the jury’s award in a case involving a fatal car crash caused by a defective Toyota Camry. The accident also sent a man to prison for nearly three years for a crime he did not commit.
FATAL CRASH LEADS TO WRONGFUL IMPRISONMENT
On August 5, 2010, Koua Fong Lee, a Hmong immigrant, was returning with his family from a church celebration when the brakes of his Toyota Camry failed, causing a violent collision that killed three passengers in the other vehicle and seriously injured two others. Mr. Lee couldn’t control his vehicle because a design defect caused sudden unintended acceleration. Because Toyota suppressed information about other incidents of sudden unintended acceleration, Mr. Lee was convicted of criminal vehicular homicide and spent over two years in prison.
NEW TRIAL PROVES INNOCENCE
Bob Hilliard’s pursuit of a new trial proved that Toyota’s design defect was the true cause of the deadly accident. The State dropped all charges against Mr. Lee, who was released from prison after serving two and a half years of an eight-year prison sentence.
$11.4 MILLION JURY AWARD
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.
TOYOTA TRIES AND FAILS TO HAVE AWARD OVERTURNED
Trying to avoid paying the multi-million-dollar award, in March 2015 Toyota asked the Court to declare that Mr. Lee’s Camry did not have a design defect, or to grant a new trial. Toyota claimed that evidence presented at trial did not prove that the accident was caused by a design defect. The trial judge 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.”
THE 8TH CIRCUIT’S DECISION ENDS THE NIGHTMARE
Toyota appealed the Court’s decision to the 8th Circuit, which subsequently ruled, “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 see the end of this Toyota-created nightmare. Toyota has refused to accept its clear responsibility, instead allowing its own customers to be killed and injured. The company dishonored itself and tarnished its own image for almost a decade by denying this defect. I hope the Court’s decision will motivate Toyota to change its shameful conduct and carefully consider its corporate responsibility when a defect kills and injures.”
LONG HOURS, HARD WORK PAY OFF
“I am proud of my trial team for their hard work. Days like today, when justice is finally delivered, make the long hours of preparation worth it,” said Mr. Hilliard.
Co-counsel X. Kevin Zhao added, “It was an honor, personally and professionally, to represent Koua in this case and serve as co-counsel with some of the best trial and appellate lawyers in the country. Bob Hilliard was confident, persuasive, and ferocious in advocating for Mr. Lee, but always maintained courtesy and respect for opposing counsel. I could not be happier for Koua and his family.”