MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A federal judge on Wednesday heard arguments about whether Toyota Motor Corp. should be granted a new trial or should pay less than the $11 million awarded to plaintiffs in a lawsuit resulting from a fatal crash in Minnesota.
A jury in February cited a design defect in determining that Toyota was 60 percent to blame for a 2006 crash that killed three people and injured two others in St. Paul.
An attorney for Toyota argued Wednesday that the driver of the Camry, Koua Fong Lee, should pay $4 million of that payout, the Star Tribune reported (http://strib.mn/1GjND6n ). He was found 40 percent responsible for the crash.
Lee was convicted of vehicular homicide but granted a new trial. Prosecutors declined to retry him.
But Toyota asked for a new trial Wednesday, saying the court was wrong to allow certain witnesses and evidence.
Toyota attorney David Graves said an attorney for the families who won the case used "sleight of hand" in closing arguments.
"The jury was misled," said Bard Borkon, another Toyota lawyer. "We did not have an opportunity to respond to it."
But the families' attorneys said the evidence supported the closing arguments and Toyota was recycling claims that were rejected at trial.
Lee was driving a 1996 Camry with family members aboard when he exited Interstate 94 in St. Paul and rear-ended a 1995 Oldsmobile Ciera, killing the driver, his son, and injuring three others, including the driver's daughter who later died.
During the three-week trial, plaintiffs' attorney Bob Hilliard argued that the Camry's accelerator mechanism had a design defect that caused two pulleys to overheat and stick, so the car sped up while Lee frantically pumped the brake.
Toyota contended there was no defect, the brakes worked and Lee had accidentally pressed the accelerator, rather than the brakes.
Borkon said an expert witness who testified that the pulleys overheated never did a test to see how much the temperature rose. Toyota ran a test that topped out at 128 degrees, he said, too low for pulleys to stick. He said the witness never said the accelerator repeatedly got stuck at higher levels, as Hilliard said in his closing argument.
But attorney Marion Reilly, representing Lee on Wednesday, said that Toyota's tests were flawed and that ample testimony from witnesses showed how the pulleys could overheat and stick at higher temperatures.
U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery will issue her decision later.
Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com