(CN) – Toyota must pay a heavier penalty than the jury demanded for Camry defects that contributed to a fatal crash that launched a criminal prosecution, a federal judge ruled.
On Feb. 3, following a three-week trial, a jury found Toyota liable for a June 10, 2006, collision that tore apart two families and awarded $10 million in damages.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery collectively increased that award to more than $14 million.
Although Toyota responded to safety complaints by recalling 2008 and 2009 Camry models, Koua Fong Lee alleged that a much older model experienced the same problem on an interstate in St. Paul, Minn. nine years ago.
Driving his then-pregnant wife and other family members, Lee insisted that his 1996 Camry lost control of the brakes before hitting an Oldsmobile Cierra that had stopped at a red light. The crash killed three and severely injured two of the Cierra’s passengers, and Lee served an 8-year sentence for criminal convictions of vehicular homicide and careless driving.
Toyota’s Camry recalls later gave Lee grounds to successfully challenge his convictions.
In 2010, three Minnesota Federal Court lawsuits accused Toyota in federal court of fraudulently concealing defects in the Camry revealed to them in complaints to dealerships and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Lee’s family joined as an intervenor in one of these cases, which was filed by the family of a child who died in the Cierra.
Earlier this year, a jury found that Lee had been 40 percent responsible for the accident and awarded him $1.25 million for the 60 percent that was the car’s fault.
U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery reduced Lee’s award to $888,246.58 – and also lowered the judgments to his family members – on Monday.
The Lee family’s insurers at American Family Mutual were awarded $209,050.03 in damages.
The victims sitting the Cierra made out better with the judge than with the jury.
Devyn Bolton died at the age of six, after the crash turned him into a paraplegic. Montgomery raised the $4 million award to his estate to more than $7.3 million, including interest and funeral and medical expenses.
The judge also refused to lower the award for the “horrific, tragic and distressing event” experienced by teenager Jassmine Adams.
“The crash occurred at a fragile time in her young life, as a 12-year old girl navigating the tribulations of adolescence,” the 67-page opinion states. “Losing family members in such a manner is incomprehensible and was undoubtedly a life-altering event for Jassmine Adams. The crash forces crumpled the Ciera, trapping Jassmine Adams inside with her dead and dying family members.”
Javis Trice-Adams and his son, Javis Adams, Jr., died at the scene of the collision.
The awards for Jassmine Adams and her grandfather Quincy Adams were adjusted for interest and pretrial settlements.
Montgomery denied Toyota’s motion for a new trial, but she granted Toyota a 30-day stay of judgment allowing for the company to file an appeal.
Lawyers for the parties did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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