Toyota Motor Co. is asking U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery to overturn a $10.9 million award to the driver and victims of a 2006 accident, arguing the jury should not have found the company at fault.
In legal documents filed Tuesday, Toyota also said Koua Fong Lee, the driver of a 1996 Toyota Camry, and his wife and family were not entitled to money awarded for emotional damages, because their testimony about their distress after the crash that killed three people was not backed up by medical testimony.
“We sympathize with the families affected by this unfortunate accident in 2006,” Toyota said in a statement Wednesday. “However, based on our close review of the record, we do not believe the verdict is supported by the testimony presented at trial from plaintiffs’ expert and other incident witnesses. In our view, the evidence clearly demonstrated that Mr. Lee’s 1996 Camry was well-designed and not the cause of this crash.”
Toyota’s motion will form the basis of a near-certain appeal to the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, should Montgomery reject the request.
In a brief signed by Minneapolis attorney Bard Borkon, Toyota contends that Lee’s chief technical witness, John Stilson, did not prove his contention that two pulleys in the Camry overheated and stuck together, causing the car to accelerate even as Lee applied the brakes at the Interstate 94 exit at Snelling Avenue in St. Paul.
The Camry rear-ended a 1995 Oldsmobile Ciera, killing the Ciera’s driver and his son, severely injuring the driver’s daughter, who died 16 months later, and injuring two other relatives in the Ciera.
Toyota said that rather than using road tests to show the pulleys overheated, Stilson inappropriately aimed a hair dryer at the pulleys to simulate the heat. Toyota said its tests showed no overheating.
The company also said that Stilson moved a lever on the Camry’s cruise control to a position that could have caused the pulleys to stick, but the lever was not in that position during the accident.
In addition, Toyota said three witnesses who testified that their 2006 Camrys had had unintended acceleration did not have similar experiences, and their testimony should not have been allowed.
In a telephone interview Wednesday, Lee’s attorney Bob Hilliard said, “I am comfortable that … this verdict will survive all of Toyota’s challenges. Toyota made these same arguments [during the trial] and they were denied.”