Jury finds Toyota at fault for crash that sent innocent man to prison

Posted on 4 Feb 2015 by Tim Brown

Awards over $11m in damages

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 2006 deadly accident.

Bob Hilliard and the Lee Family outside the courtroom - image courtesy of Hilliard Munoz Gonzales LLP.
Bob Hilliard and the Lee Family outside the courtroom – image courtesy of Hilliard Munoz Gonzales LLP.

The verdict, returned after 21 days of testimony, and 4 days of deliberations, 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.

After the grueling 3 week trial in front of Judge Ann Montgomery in federal court in Minneapolis, Minnesota a 12-person jury unanimously agreed with Mr Hilliard and found the Toyota Camry was defectively dangerous and a direct cause of the accident. The jury found 60% responsibility on Toyota.

The jury awarded all plaintiffs, including the passengers in the car which was hit by Mr Lee, a total of $11,440,000.

Details of the accident

On 10 June 2006 Mr Lee, was driving home from a church function with his pregnant wife, young child, as well as his brother and elderly father when his car begin to accelerate by itself. The racing engine overpowered the braking system’s ability to stop it.

Though Mr Lee tried to maneuver his out of control and accelerating vehicle around cars stopped at the approaching traffic light, he could not and crashed into an Oldsmobile Ciera, instantly killing two people and rendering a six-year-old girl quadriplegic, she died the following year.

Two other passengers in the Oldsmobile suffered serious injuries. Mr Lee and his family were not seriously injured.


Even though there were no drugs or alcohol involved and the accident happened on a clear Saturday afternoon and Mr Lee always maintained something had gone suddenly wrong with his Toyota, in 2008 a criminal jury convicted Mr Lee of criminally negligent homicide and he was sentenced to 8 years in prison.

At the time of the criminal trial there was little known about sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles and Mr Lee’s criminal attorney presented no evidence on this issue.

Mr Lee spent two years in prsion, away from his wife and 4 kids.

Lee had 5 more years to serve when Mr Hilliard and his co-counsel, Minneapolis based attorney Brent Schafer, put on evidence at a hearing seeking to overturn Mr Lee’s conviction that the 1996 Toyota Camry was defective. At the end of the hearing the same Judge who sentenced Mr. Lee to 8 years in prison ordered his conviction vacated and granted his immediate release.

After Mr. Lee was released from prison Hilliard filed this lawsuit against Toyota.

Evidence of defect at trial

Hilliard put on expert testimony to show that the accelerator on Lee’s 1996 Toyota Camry suddenly and unexpectedly stuck in the near wide-open position, causing the car to accelerate. He also called to testify three independent witnesses who had experienced similar events in their 1996 Toyota Camry, a doctor, a Blackhawk helicopter pilot currently deployed in Kuwait and a former CFO of a college university.

“Finally, through this jury’s verdict, Justice, though slow, has come to Koua Fong Lee. Mr. Lee and his family, as well as the other victims of this accident, have experienced a journey biblical in its sadness and anguish. I know there were times when they could not have ever dared hope this day would find them.”