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MINNEAPOLIS — A federal jury has ordered Toyota Motor Corp. to pay nearly $11 million to victims of a fatal wreck after deciding a design flaw in the 1996 Camry was partially to blame for the Minnesota crash nine years ago.
The verdict, which also held the driver partially responsible, was announced Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis.
Koua Lee was driving when his 1996 Camry crashed into another vehicle at a high speed after he exited Interstate 94 in St. Paul. Lee testified he tried to stop, but that the car wouldn't slow.
Lee was convicted of vehicular homicide and sent to prison, but he was released after 2 ½ years behind bars amid reports suggesting some Toyota cars had sudden acceleration problems. He later sued.
Lee's attorneys say a design defect in the 1996 Camry caused the crash, not Lee. Toyota argued there was no defect and Lee was negligent.
Toyota Motor Corp.'s 1996 Camry had a design defect that is partly to blame for a 2006 crash that left three people dead in Minnesota, but the man driving the car also was partially at fault, the federal jury ruled. Jurors decided that the company was 60 percent to blame for the wreck, but that Lee, who has long insisted he tried to slow his car before it slammed into another vehicle, was 40 percent to blame. The wreck also seriously injured two people.
During the trial, Lee's attorney, Robert Hilliard, told jurors that there was a defect in the car's design. He said the Camry's auto-drive assembly could stick, and when tapped or pushed while stuck, it could stick again at a higher speed.
The company's attorney, David Graves, suggested that Lee was an inexperienced driver and mistook the gas pedal for the brake, and that's why the car accelerated.
The crash killed the driver of the other vehicle, Javis Trice-Adams Sr., and his 9-year-old son, Javis Adams Jr. His 6-year-old niece, Devyn Bolton, was paralyzed and died in October 2007. Trice-Adams' daughter, Jassmine Adams, who was 12 at the time, was seriously injured, as was Trice-Adams' father, Quincy Ray Adams. Those two and Devon Bolton's mother, Bridgette Trice, were the other plaintiffs in the case.