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Jury Finds Toyota Partially at Fault for Crash that Sent Man to Prison

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Feb. 4, 2015—Toyota has been ordered to award $11.4 million to plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the Japanese automaker, according to a Minneapolis court ruling on Tuesday.

Bob Hilliard of Hilliard Munoz Gonzales has won the lawsuit against Toyota in which he proved its 1996 Camry was defectively dangerous and caused a deadly accident in 2006. The verdict further vindicates Koau Fong Lee, who was wrongfully imprisoned for the crash that caused the deaths of three people, and serious injuries to two others.

A 12-person jury unanimously agreed with Hilliard and found the Toyota Camry was defectively dangerous and a direct cause of the accident. The jury found 60 percent responsibility on Toyota.

On June 10, 2006, Lee was driving home with his pregnant wife, young child, his brother, and father when his car begin to accelerate by itself. The racing engine overpowered the braking system's ability to stop it. Lee tried to maneuver his out-of-control and accelerating vehicle around cars stopped at the approaching traffic light, but crashed into an Oldsmobile Ciera, instantly killing two people and rendering a six-year-old girl quadriplegic, who died the following year. Two other passengers in the Oldsmobile suffered serious injuries. Lee and his family were not seriously injured.

In 2008, a jury convicted Lee of criminally negligent homicide and he was sentenced to eight years in prison. At the time of the criminal trial there was little known about sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles and Lee's criminal attorney presented no evidence on this issue.  

For two-and-a-half years, Lee served two years in prison. He had five more years to serve when Hilliard and his co-counsel, Minneapolis-based attorney Brent Schafer, put on evidence at a hearing seeking to overturn Lee's conviction that the 1996 Toyota Camry was defective. At the end of the hearing the same Judge who sentenced Lee to eight years in prison ordered his conviction vacated and granted his immediate release. The prosecutor declined to re-charge Lee.

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