A stuck pedal caused the Camry of Koua Fong Lee to accelerate uncontrollably and impact an Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera, killing its driver and his nine-year-old son, and paralyzing a six-year-old girl, who later died of her injuries. Two other passengers in the Olds were seriously injured. Lee spent nearly three years in prison on a charge of vehicular homicide, until the unintended acceleration recall erupted. He filed a motion for a new trial and won, and then joined the suit against Toyota filed by the victims and their families of the 2006 crash that left him imprisoned.
The jury found Toyota 60 percent responsible for the accident, with the remaining 40 percent of blame going to Lee. Toyota has denied that the 1996 Camry, which wasn't included in the company's sweeping accelerator pedal recalls, was at fault. Toyota released a statement saying the company respects the jury's decision but believes the evidence clearly showed the vehicle wasn't the accident's cause. The company said it will study the record and consider its legal options.
Under Minnesota law, the way the jury allocated fault means Toyota is responsible for paying all damages, minus 40 percent of the amount awarded to Lee, said Lee's attorney, Bob Hilliard. That brings Toyota's total liability to $10.94 million. Lee will receive $750,000 of that total.
During the trial, Hilliard, told jurors there was a defect in the car's design. He said the Camry's auto-drive assembly could stick, and when tapped or pushed while stuck, it could stick again at a higher speed. He also accused Toyota of never conducting reliability tests on nylon resin pulleys that could be damaged under heat and cause the throttle to stick.
"This is what makes the car go. This is what turns it into a torpedo, a missile, a deadly weapon," Hilliard said during his closing argument.
Toyota said there was no defect in the design of the 1996 Camry. The company's attorney, David Graves, suggested that Lee was an inexperienced driver and mistook the gas pedal for the brake.
Toyota also noted that Lee's car was never subject to the recalls of later-model Toyotas.
Hilliard said the verdict means that other 1996 Toyota Camrys have defects, and perhaps the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration needs to take a look at the car, while owners of those vehicles need to make sure they are safe.
"I am 100 percent convinced in my heart and mind that there is a defect in this Camry, and that this defect caused this accident," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.