A Federal Court jury in Mississippi has awarded a family more than $7.3 million in a lawsuit against Toyota. In 2009, Wayne, Mary and Will Graves sued Toyota Motor Corp. and Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc., alleging among other things that design defects were responsible for Will Graves’ paralysis following a rollover. Will Graves, then 16, was driving on U.S. 84 in Jones County when his 1995 Toyota 4Runner sports utility vehicle flipped several times. He suffered spinal injuries that left him paralyzed from the sternum to the lower extremities, according to the lawsuit.
This case involved an un-tripped rollover on flat, dry pavement. The jury found the 4Runner was “in defective condition and unreasonably dangerous to the Plaintiff,” and that the defects and unreasonable danger was a “proximate cause” of Will Graves’ injuries. Combining future lost earnings, pain and suffering, medical costs and loss of enjoyment of life, the jury computed a compensation amount of more than $12.2 million. But the jury also found that contributory negligence on the part of Will Graves was responsible for 40% of the accident, reducing the total amount to around $7.35 million.
District Judge Keith Starrett did not let the awarding of punitive damages go to the jury, ruling that the Plaintiffs did not meet the burden of proof. The case centered around the vehicle’s propensity to overturn in certain situations because of its high center of gravity and the likelihood of the roof crushing down into the passenger compartment during such an incident. The roof crushed down on the occupancy space in the passenger compartment.
Toyota’s testing of the 4Runner’s danger to drivers came only as a result of lawsuits. When the company started more serious rollover tests in 1997, Toyota protected its test drivers with an additional roll bar. Toyota claimed in the case that driver error caused the accident, that the vehicle was well-designed and well-tested, that it was safe in its resistance to rollover, that it was safe in its regard to roof strength, and that Graves’ injuries occurred before the rollover deformed the roof. Toyota also argued that gouges in the road indicated one of the tires was under-inflated, leading to the rollover. Biloxi lawyers, Robert P. Myers and Joe Sam Owens, represented the Plaintiff and did a very good job in this case.
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