An appeals court ruled that Toyota is liable for a fatal car crash that sent a driver to prison, after the case that was taken on by the Innocence Project of Minnesota, a group that represents people who were wrongfully convicted for crimes they did not commit.
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According to the organization, Koua Fong Lee was wrongfully convicted of vehicular homicide in 2007 after his 1996 Toyota Camry accelerated uncontrollably and crashed into two vehicles at the end of a St. Paul freeway exit ramp. A man and two children died in the crash and two others were injured.
Lee had said during his criminal trial that the Camry had suddenly accelerated on its own that day and would not stop when he tried to apply the brakes. Despite maintaining his innocence, Lee was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison.
Two years into his sentence, Toyota revealed that some of its cars were experiencing acceleration issues. The Innocence Project of Minnesota along with some attorneys discovered strong evidence that Lee’s car malfunctioned like the others did, causing it to accelerate and ultimately causing the crash.
Students at the University of Minnesota Law School worked with the Innocence Project on the case, interviewing “numerous other Toyota drivers who had experienced the same problems with their own Toyotas.” The students drafted and collected more than 50 affidavits from those interviews.
Lee was released and exonerated on Aug. 5, 2010, after serving almost three years in prison. Family members of those who were hit and killed by Lee’s car later filed a lawsuit against Toyota and after Lee was released from prison, he joined them in the civil suit as a co-plaintiff.
In 2015, a jury ruled in favor of Lee and the families, issuing a verdict that the company was 60 percent liable for the crash. Toyota was ordered to pay the victims $11 million. The automaker appealed the decision, sending the case to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, which recently upheld the 2015 verdict.
“We sympathize with everyone affected by this unfortunate accident from 2006,” Toyota’s press team says in a statement to ConsumerAffairs. “While we respect the Eighth 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.”
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