Koua Fong Lee spent the last two and a half years behind bars for criminal vehicular homicide. In June of 2006, Lee was driving family members in his 1996 Toyota Camry when the vehicle raced out of control on an interstate exit ramp and slammed into an Oldsmobile Ciera. The accident killed three people aboard the Oldsmobile. From the very beginning, Lee stated he had his foot firmly pressed to the brake pedal, but the car accelerated out of control.
A jury of his peers was not convinced by Lee's story, and Lee was sentenced to eight years in prison. However, a judge reopened his case after the widespread reports of sudden acceleration problems in Toyota vehicles and the recall that followed. Lee's attorney brought expert reports and witnesses who testified to their own Toyotas speeding out of control, and he persuaded the judge to grant Lee a new trial last August. The prosecutors immediately dropped the charges, leaving Lee a free man. Lee is free, but he has not been made whole.
Bridgette Trice, the mother of one of the people killed aboard the Oldsmobile, had previously filed a product liability suit against Toyota for the death of her daughter. This week, U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan ruled that Lee and his family could join as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
The complaint against Toyota alleges strict liability, failure to warn, breach of warranty and negligence. The basis for these claims is that Toyota knew of the sudden unintended acceleration problems with its vehicles, but did not warn the public and took no steps to fix the problems. Lee is seeking compensation for the time he lost behind bars, his injuries, his family's injuries, and the psychological and emotional harm they endured because of the crash and his subsequent incarceration.
Toyota is facing hundreds of sudden acceleration lawsuits across the country, and is getting a hard lesson in product liability. In basic terms, product liability is the legal responsibility that occurs after a defective or dangerous product injures or kills a person. Manufacturers of a product have a duty to make certain the products they sell are not dangerous and free from defects. When a dangerous or defective product harms or kills someone, the manufacturer, distributer, and retailer of the product will be liable for the harm their product causes.
Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune: Lee suing Toyota for what he lost; Pat Pheifer, 11/16/2010