Koau Fong Lee spent more than two years in prison after his Toyota (TM) unexpectedly sped up and crashed into another car, instantly killing two people and badly injuring three others.
On Monday, a jury in Minnesota found that Toyota was 60% responsible for the accident and ordered the automaker to pay $11.4 million to Lee, his family and victims of the crash.
The verdict, which came after a three-week trial in federal court, said the accident was caused by the car’s unintended acceleration, a problem that forced a massive recall of Toyota vehicles from 2009 to 2011.
According to Lee’s lawyer, the deadly accident occurred on a clear Saturday afternoon in 2006.
Lee was driving home from a church function with his family when his 1996 Camry suddenly sped up. He tried to regain control of the car but could not and it crashed into an Oldsmobile.
In addition to killing two people, the accident left Devyn Bolton, the six-year-old girl niece of the man who was driving the Oldsmobile, a quadriplegic. She died 18 months later.
Lee and his family were not harmed in the accident.
In 2008, Lee was sentenced to eight years in prison for criminally negligent homicide.
He was released from jail two and a half years later when unintended acceleration in many Toyota cars became widely known. The same judge who sent Lee to jail overturned his conviction and set him free.
Toyota said it sympathizes with Lee and the other victims of the crash. But the company maintains that its car was not the cause of the accident.
“We believe the evidence clearly demonstrated that Mr. Lee’s 1996 Camry was not the cause of this unfortunate accident,” a Toyota spokesperson said. “We will study the record and carefully consider our legal options going forward.”
Lee’s lawyer, Robert Hilliard, said Toyota spent tens of millions of dollars trying to “frame” his client.
“Shame on Toyota for wrongly attempting to once again lay the guilt of this accident on Koua,” said Hilliard. “The lives lost and the horrible consequences of that tragic day in 2006 are a direct result of this dangerous and defective 1996 Toyota Camry, and not Koua Fong Lee.”
The jury awarded $4 million to Jasmine Adams and $1.25 million to Quincy Adams, both of whom were in the Oldsmobile and were badly injured in the crash. It also awarded $4 million to the estate of Devyn Bolton.
Lee, who sued along with members of his family who were in the car that day, was awarded $1.25 million.