The Toyota Motor Co., which was ordered by a jury to pay $10.9 million as a result of a fatal accident in St. Paul, has asked U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery to make Koua Fong Lee pay more than $4 million of the award because the jury found Lee 40 percent at fault in the crash.
Bob Hilliard, the Texas attorney who represented Lee in the federal trial that ended earlier this month, was informed of the motion by a reporter. Hilliard called the proposal “baseless and desperate.”
Hilliard said that Toyota never filed a counterclaim against Lee, 37, the driver of the 1996 Toyota Camry. “They never brought him in as a third-party defendant,” Hilliard said. “They can’t now seek a contribution from him. It’s ridiculous.”
Following a three-week trial and about four days of deliberation, the jury of six men and six women on Feb. 3 found Toyota 60 percent at fault and Lee 40 percent at fault in the June 10, 2006, accident in St. Paul.
Lee’s attorneys argued that two nylon accelerator pulleys became stuck as Lee exited from eastbound Interstate 94 at Snelling Avenue, and despite efforts by Lee to apply the brakes, his Camry gained speed and rear-ended a 1995 Oldsmobile Ciera which was sitting at a stoplight at Snelling and Concordia. Toyota claimed Lee accidentally stepped on the gas pedal rather than the brakes.
The driver of the Ciera, Javis Trice-Adams, and his son, Javis Jr., 9, were killed instantly in the crash. Devyn Bolton, 6, the daughter of his ex-wife, Bridgette Trice, sustained serious injuries and died more than a year later.
In one motion filed Tuesday, signed by Toyota attorney Bard Borkon, Toyota said that 40 percent of the $10.9 million in damages that Toyota must pay totals $4.076 million. “The $1,250,000 the jury awarded to him would offset some of the $4,076,000, but he would still owe Toyota $2,826,000,” the motion stated, adding that Lee should pay that amount.
Toyota also sought reductions in other payouts awarded to victims of the crash. For example, it said that Bridgette Trice was paid through insurance $1 million for medical expenses for her daughter, and $6,407 in funeral expenses. The $4 million Toyota was ordered to pay Trice and the little girl’s grandmother should be reduced by that amount, the Toyota attorneys wrote.
Similarly they asked that Quincy Adams, the little girl’s grandfather, who was also injured in the crash and received $1.25 million in the jury decision, should have it cut by $77,894 which were medical expenses for which he was already reimbursed.
Jemee Lee, Koua Fong Lee’s daughter, who got $150,000, should have her award reduced by $19,768 that she got through insurance, the Toyota motion said.
Jassmine Adams, who was also in the Ciera, was awarded $4 million for serious leg injuries she sustained that will require more surgery. She should have her payout reduced by $30,000 which she received from Lee’s insurer, the Toyota attorneys said.
The company also asked for several other reductions based on insurance payments.
Minnesota law requires attorneys seeking to have a jury award reduced for collateral payouts must file motions within 10 days of when the judgment is formally entered in court records.
Hilliard, Lee’s attorney, said Tuesday, “It’s amazing the world’s largest car company is now trying to nickel and dime this judgment and go after these very modest-income, working-class people.”
A Toyota spokesman said the company’s attorneys would not comment.
The lawyers also filed a motion asking for a hearing before Montgomery on April 22 or as soon thereafter that it can be scheduled.