June 9, 2017 / 8:59 PM / 2 years ago

U.S. court upholds $11 million verdict against Toyota over fatal crash

(Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Friday upheld an $11 million verdict against Toyota Motor Corp over a fatal 2006 car crash in Minnesota, which a jury found was caused by an accelerator defect in a 1996 Camry.

FILE PHOTO - The Toyota logo is seen at the company's display during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., January 10, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Blinch/File Photo

A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the Minnesota jury had enough evidence to conclude in 2015 that Toyota was 60 percent liable for the crash and that the driver of the Camry, Koua Fong Lee, was 40 percent liable.

Lee was criminally charged in connection with the crash and served nearly three years in prison for vehicular homicide, according to his lawyer, Robert Hilliard. In 2010, when reports of unintended acceleration in other Toyota vehicles surfaced, Lee won a motion to set aside his conviction, and he was released from prison.

The car in the accident was not covered by Toyota’s recall of more than 10 million vehicles between 2009 and 2010 over acceleration issues.

“I’m grateful to the 8th Circuit but I’m also relieved for Mr. Lee’s family,” Hilliard said of Friday’s decision.

“We sympathize with everyone affected by this unfortunate accident from 2006,” Toyota said in a statement. “While we respect the 8th Circuit’s decision, we continue to believe the evidence shows that Mr. Lee’s 1996 Camry was well-designed and was not the cause of this accident.”

A lawyer representing other people injured in the accident could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Minnesota trial stemmed from a lawsuit filed on behalf of passengers injured or killed in the 2006 crash in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Lee, who later joined the lawsuit, said he was driving his 1996 Toyota Camry when it inexplicably began to accelerate as he approached other vehicles stopped at an intersection.

The Camry slammed into an Oldsmobile Ciera, killing the driver, Javis Trice-Adams Sr., as well as his 9-year-old son, according to the 2010 lawsuit. A 6-year-old girl who was also in the car was paralyzed and later died. Two other passengers were seriously injured, according to the lawsuit.

Though it upheld the jury’s findings, the 8th Circuit on Friday did find that the trial court judge had improperly calculated the damages for Bridgette Trice, mother of the 6-year-old, Devyn Bolton, and ordered that the amount be recalculated.

Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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