Toyota has asked the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to throw out an $11.4-million verdict awarded in a suit blaming an unintended acceleration defect for a fatal car crash, which subsequently led to a man’s imprisonment on vehicular manslaughter charges, claiming the verdict was based on inadmissible evidence. The automaker said that a Minnesota federal judge improperly admitted other unintended-acceleration incidents as evidence without any proof that they resulted from the same defect and claimed that the three victims’ relatives have no case without an expert’s flawed conclusion that those incidents were “similar.”
Javis Trice-Adams was killed in the collision, along with his 9-year-old son. His niece, 7-year-old Devyn Bolton, died of her injuries 18 months after their vehicle was rammed from behind in 2006 by a 1996 Toyota Camry operated by Koua Fong Lee, who was transporting several family members at the time and spent more than two years in prison as a result of the crash.
After Toyota was forced to recall millions of vehicles because of the defect, Lee was released from prison in 2008. He claimed, along with Bolton’s next of kin, that the Camry suffered from an overheating problem that caused its throttle to stick, just as in other crashes highlighted in a report by expert John M. Stilson. Toyota said that U.S. District Judge Ann D. Montgomery should have granted its motion for judgment as a matter of law, claiming that the report was flawed and that the other evidence – including testimony that Lee tried repeatedly to apply the brakes – wasn’t enough to prove the Camry was defective.
After the jury found against Toyota last February, Judge Montgomery upheld the verdict over the company’s objections, along with prejudgment interest, which brought the damages to about $13 million. But Toyota contends that it shouldn’t have to pay the interest because the damages awarded to Bolton’s estate didn’t distinguish between past and future damages. Minnesota law was said not to allow prejudgment interest on a lump sum. There were also other arguments by Toyota relating to damages issues. “A trustee cannot assert a claim on which the decedent could not have recovered had she lived,” Toyota said, asking the court to affirm a $130,000 offset for Trice if it does not grant a new trial.
The Plaintiffs are represented by Bill Markovits, Louise Roselle, Christopher D. Stock and Eric Kmetz of Markovits Stock & DeMarco LLC, Michael B. Padden of Padden & Associates LLC, Kenneth R. White of the Law Office of Kenneth R. White PC, and Anne Brockland and Amy Collignon Gunn of The Simon Law Firm PC.
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