MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minnesota man whose Toyota rammed into another car in 2006, killing three people, has been wracked by guilt since the crash, his attorney told a jury Wednesday in closing arguments in the man's lawsuit against the company.
Attorney Robert Hilliard reminded the jury of technical evidence he said proves that Koua Fong Lee's 1996 Toyota Camry accelerated uncontrollably right before the crash. But he also asked the jury to consider Lee's mental anguish as it weighs responsibility and damages.
"I know the damage that occurred because of the guilt he carries," Hilliard said.
Lee's Camry rear-ended another family's Oldsmobile at high speed as he drove up an Interstate 94 off-ramp in St. Paul. He always insisted the car was at fault, but spent 2½ years in prison before publicity over sudden acceleration in some Toyotas helped free him.
Toyota Motor Corp. insisted that Lee's car was not defective and was never subject to the recalls of later-model Toyotas. The company says Lee caused the crash by accidentally hitting the gas instead of the brake.
Toyota attorney David Graves urged jurors to decide the case based on evidence, not sympathy for the victims.
"There's no evidence this was defective in design when it left our control back in 1996 and that's what the law is," Graves said.
Lee testified early in the nearly three-week trial that he is still haunted by the accident. He and his wife wept Wednesday as they left the courtroom after Hilliard's closing argument.
Hilliard used pieces of Lee's car to illustrate technical points. He told the jury that testimony had proven that the Camry's accelerator assembly could stick and, when tapped or pushed while stuck, stick again at a higher speed. He also accused Toyota of never conducting reliability tests on nylon resin pulleys subject to damage and sticking under heat.
"This is what makes the car go. This is what turns it into a torpedo, a missile, a deadly weapon," Hilliard said.
Graves, the Toyota attorney, told jurors that testimony proved it was impossible for Lee's car to speed up from around 55 mph on the ramp to 70 mph at impact unless he had the accelerator nearly wide open. He cited several tests that showed applying or pumping the brakes — as Lee testified he did — would have slowed the car.
"The brakes will win," Graves said. "You can't explain this accident any other way than having no brake applied and the foot at or near wide open throttle."
Jurors must determine whether the Camry design was so defective it was unreasonably dangerous. If they say it was, they must consider whether the defect directly caused the plaintiffs' injuries.
U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery told the jury early in the case to disregard anything they might have read about Lee's criminal case or his time in prison.
Killed in the crash were the Oldsmobile's driver, Javis Trice-Adams Sr., who had stopped at an intersection, and his 9-year-old son, Javis Adams Jr. His 6-year-old niece, Devyn Bolton, was left paralyzed and died in October 2007. Two other passengers in Trice-Adams' car were seriously injured.
The other plaintiffs in the case are Jassmine Adams, a daughter of Trice-Adams who was 12 at the time, and Quincy Ray Adams, the father of Trice-Adams. Devyn Bolton's mother, Bridgette Trice, is also a plaintiff.