A Minnesota jury has ordered Toyota to pay $11 million to the victims of a fatal car crash, which was allegedly caused by design defects with a Camry vehicle that accelerated out of control.
The wrongful death verdict was announced by a jury in the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis on Tuesday, involving a Toyota Camry accident in 2006, which resulted in the death of three people and led to the driver, Koua Fong Lee, being jailed for two years, despite claims that he was unable to stop the vehicle.
Lee was released from jail in 2010, only after a series of Toyota recalls due to unintended acceleration problems, which impacted millions of different vehicles.
In 2009 and 2010, Toyota recalled about 10 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles due to unintended acceleration problems. Once it was discovered that Lee’s vehicle was one of those likely affected by the defect, the conviction was set aside and he was released from prison.
The lawsuit was filed by Lee, members of his family, the family of a 6 year-old girl killed in the accident, and two people who were also seriously injured in the crash.
Lee claimed that he was unable to stop his 1996 Toyota Camry before the crash, indicating that it accelerated out of control. Although Toyota claimed that Lee hit the gas instead of the brake, the jury determined that the auto maker was 60% responsible for the crash, and ordered the company to pay $11 million in compensation. Lee was found by the jury to be 40% responsible for the accident, following a three week trial.
As a result of problems with unintended acceleration, at least $1.4 billion in Toyota settlements have reportedly been paid by the auto maker, including class action lawsuits brought by owners of various Toyota and Lexus vehicles who alleged the value of their cars were lowered. The auto maker continues to face a number of personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits over the unintended acceleration problems.
In the federal court system, all lawsuits over the Toyota recalls have been centralized and consolidated under Judge James V. Selna for pretrial proceedings in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in Santa Ana as part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL).
In addition to the growing costs of the lawsuits, Toyota was also fined $66.2 million by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for failing to address the problems in a prompt manner, and also paid investors $25.5 million to settle claims that the company tried to conceal the problem, resulting in inflated stock value.