By on February 5, 2015

1996 Toyota Camry LE

Nine years after a 1996 Camry with an accelerator defect led to a fatal accident in Minnesota, Toyota was found at fault and ordered to pay $11 million.

Reuters reports jurors debated the points of three-week-long trial before finding the automaker 60 percent responsible for the deaths of Javis Trice-Adams Sr. and two children when Koua Fong Lee’s Camry lost its brakes while its accelerator became stuck, striking Trice-Adams Sr.’s Oldsmobile Ciera. Two other passengers were injured in the accident, and Lee spent three years in prison for vehicular manslaughter before being released in 2010 after reports of unintended acceleration involving Toyota products took the spotlight.

Toyota still claims Lee was 100 percent at-fault for the fatal accident, and is considering legal options to pursue. The car itself also wasn’t under the 2009-11 recall of 10 million vehicles made between 2005 and 2010.

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47 Comments on “Toyota Ordered To Pay $11M In Minnesota Unintended Acceleration Suit...”


  • avatar

    How can I be certain that this was actually due to unintended acceleration and not a distracted driving case that lawyers used unintended acceleration to get him off on?

    I have less respect for lawyers than I do Toyotas.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      That’s why the case went to a jury – to increase certainty and settle the matter.

      A simple case could have been handled by a judge.

      • 0 avatar
        Dan

        Certainty? If you want certainty you settle.

        There’s nothing in this world less certain than 12 idiots off the street.

        • 0 avatar
          SCE to AUX

          “There’s nothing in this world less certain than 12 idiots off the street.”

          Not according to the Sixth Amendment.

          • 0 avatar
            Dan

            Sixth amendment or not, about 1% of criminal cases and 0.25% of civil cases go to a jury.

          • 0 avatar
            30-mile fetch

            I tend to agree with Dan on his assessment of juries. I would be genuinely frightened to have my personal freedom judged by 12 of my fellow citizens. And that isn’t some form of self-righteous elitism; I wouldn’t trust myself to hand down the appropriate verdict.

            A jury convicted him of being entirely at fault four years ago. Now another jury has found him 40% at fault. In the meantime was a well-publicized debacle that didn’t even involve cars of Mr. Lee’s model year.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            Having served on many juries during my lifetime and having been the foreman of several of them I have to say that you never can tell about a jury-decided outcome. A lot goes on in the deliberation room until a concensus is reached.

            Juries are dynamic and bring their own individual value system to the table. Most of the time that’s bad.

            Bes!des, Toyota can always appeal this to a higher court. I don’t know the circumstances but I seriously doubt that Toyota had a gas pedal problem then, now or in the future.

            Seems to me this was a well-presented case of obfuscation and selective-analysis on the part of the plaintiff’s attorney.

            And if Toyota pays off, Toyota will just pass the costs on to the future buyers of their products. Every automaker does, has done, and will do in the future.

        • 0 avatar

          I consider myself a terrible juror because I have very strong feelings about the use of capital punishment for certain types of crime, I am sexist (and proud) and I am virulently patriotic.

          Some people would look at me and think “I’m a typical brotha” who’ll help their defendant – not knowing I’d burn them at the stake.

          It is because of my introspection and honestly that I refuse to serve.

          I’ll put THEIR LIVES in YOUR HANDS.

        • 0 avatar
          SCE to AUX

          There aren’t many other options:

          1. Settle. This is expedient, expensive, and an admission of guilt. Not tasteful if you’re truly innocent.

          2. Judge. A jury of 1. I think I’d prefer 12.

          3. Street justice & vigilante-ism. When people don’t like the outcome of jury decisions (Ferguson, MO), they riot, kill, and destroy, because the mob thinks they know best. That’s not the society I want to live in.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            And many people (who can) have tuned out of that society and moved away to the wide open spaces of the Great Southwest.

          • 0 avatar
            Dan

            “1. Settle. This is expedient, expensive, and an admission of guilt. Not tasteful if you’re truly innocent.”

            Settlements are, on average, less expensive than a trial, which is why virtually all cases are settled beforehand. Without a discount you’d always roll the dice to get away free.

            A criminal settlement is a plea bargain, takes place in court, and is exactly an admission of guilt. A civil settlement takes place out of court and includes explicit language that it’s not an admission of anything.

            Paying is never tasteful but it beats the alternative of paying more.

            Toyota rolled the dice here – they gambled on a slam dunk acquittal, the plaintiff gambled on an idiot jury. Idiot won this one, and if it has any sense it’ll take the settlement before the appeal goes to trial.

    • 0 avatar
      gummaumma

      I probably shouldn’t, but I’ll bite. I’m a personal injury lawyer.

      How can the jury be sure? Because they heard the facts of the case over a three-week-long trial. During the years leading up to that trial, some very highly paid lawyers hired by Toyota would have thrown everything they could at the case. Experts undoubtedly testified. Stories were challenged on cross-examination. The credibility of the plaintiff himself was probably put on trial. You can rest assured that Toyota and its lawyers explored every single theory you could think of (and even some you can’t) that give an alternative explanation as to how this event occurred.

      The standard in a civil case is “perponderance of the evidence” or “more likely than not” — not “beyond a reasonable doubt” or “certain”. But I can tell you from experience that jurors have pre-conceived notions against almost every plaintiff (just like you do!) and they require more solid proof than that to give a verdict to a plaintiff.

      So you really don’t have any information to go on… you just don’t like lawyers for whatever reason. Some of us are scum sucking bottom feeders. And some of us go after scum sucking bottom feeders. But we all get lopped in the same boat, right?

      • 0 avatar
        Dan

        “Some of us are scum sucking bottom feeders. And some of us go after scum sucking bottom feeders. But we all get lopped in the same boat, right?”

        When you went to the same schools, are part of the same professional’s organization, live in the same neighborhoods, often as not go to work in the same offices, you’re damn right you’re going in the same boat.

        Rehabilitating the shyster public image starts with the bar policing its own. Not holding my breath on that one.

        • 0 avatar
          gummaumma

          You are right. State bars are toothless and it is a damn shame. But how about giving another citizen the benefit of the doubt and looking into the facts before assuming they are treating the court system as a slot machine?

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        @gummaumma:

        Thanks for weighing in. As for Toyota, I started out firmly on their side (I’m a mechanical design engineer by day). I now think there is something to some of the claims, and I have a software expert friend who is appalled at how much of Toyota’s testimony in the unintended acceleration cases has been unreleased. Their software seems to be missing basic error checks for certain conditions, which could lead to catastrophe.

        I also believe there is driver liability in some of the cases.

        For the TTAC audience: Notably, in this case I don’t think anyone was linking the unintended acceleration allegations for recent models to this 96 Camry, which is not drive by wire. They were simply deciding that Toyota was 60% liable because of its vehicle’s role in the accident. No particular technology was being blamed.

        As for lawyers – the ‘scum’ meme is an easy one to adopt, until you’ve been helped out of a jam by one (I have), or until you serve on a jury (I have) and realize the value of having a prosecutor do their job, and a defense attorney make sure the rights of the defendant are observed – no matter how dirty they are.

        I’ve also been helped by a lemon law firm (received a small check), and my extended family engaged the services of a firm specializing in mesothelioma claims. It’s all a big joke until someone you or a loved one suffer, and then you see how Big Business tries to duck responsibility. As a person who votes ‘R’, I also believe that companies should live up to their responsibilities.

      • 0 avatar
        kanu

        “Perponderance” of the evidence? I don’t think so. Try “preponderance.”

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    Stand on the gas and the brakes at the same time, does the car move? Not even with shitty Camry brakes.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Brake fade – if you’ve ever experienced it – means a car will not stop no matter how hard you depress the brake pedal. It’s frightening and real.

      This vehicle was already in motion when the event began.

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        News articles I’ve found on this story say the acceleration happened on an off-ramp of the freeway. Doesn’t seem like that would be enough distance for brake fade.

        Snippets like these from news articles tend to erode my confidence in the process of law and prevent me from forming a solid opinion one way or the other on guilt here:

        “Jurors were asked to decide whether there was a defect in the design of the 1996 Camry that was unreasonably dangerous, and if so, whether that defect caused the plaintiffs’ injuries.”

        “Lee’s attorney argued it’s a design issue with pulleys on the accelerator. Others have blamed a software glitch, the electrical system and even floor mats. The real cause remains unknown.”

      • 0 avatar
        Detroit-Iron

        Was it coming the bottom of Pike’s Peak? From what I have seen of it Minnesota is pretty flat. I have been in a Camry with smoked brakes before (hence the apt description), but that was after a fair amount of spirited driving on some mountainous mid-atlantic back roads. Somehow the car never “inexplicably began to accelerate as [we] approached other vehicles stopped at an intersection.” Dude hit the wrong pedal.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      A volunteer!

      Run your test again, but let the car get to freeway speed first. And don’t apply the brakes all at once. Let them heat-soak a little, because at first it only seems like the car is going a little too fast. Now “stand” on the brakes and gas (full throttle).

      You’re doing this in the name of science, so I trust that you’ve already filled-out your organ donor card. You may get lucky and still have a (re-)useable cornea.

      • 0 avatar
        Detroit-Iron

        Why would the brakes have any soak? In this test am I supposed to be oblivious to what is happening around me and to the vehicle? Regardless, I would not try what you are suggesting with a Camry, because I think they are woefully underbraked (unless they have learned their lesson, it has been a while since I have driven one). Would I try it in a car that I had confidence in the brakes? Sure, why not?

        • 0 avatar
          30-mile fetch

          When the 2009 debacle began, I remember Edmunds did a test where they stood on both the brakes and gas of a contemporary Camry at freeway speed. It stopped in a surprisingly short distance. And it was the 268-hp V6.

          I don’t think Camrys have been underbraked for awhile.

          • 0 avatar
            heavy handle

            30-mile fetch,

            It wasn’t Edmunds. It was one of the big-3 car mags. They did a reasonable job to protect one of their biggest advertisers.

            As I mention above, what they did could have worked in real-life, provided that the drivers immediately and completely understood that their cars were trying to kill them. Add-in a few seconds of cognitive delay while riding the brakes and their test is not relevant.
            I do, however, 100% agree that a stunt driver on a clear track with a mechanically sound Camry can come to a stop while applying full throttle, provided that this is the reason why he was on the track for in the first place.

          • 0 avatar
            30-mile fetch

            http://www.edmunds.com/car-safety/could-you-please-stop.html

            The brake fade issue obscures what to me is the bigger problem of people not having a basic understanding of how their two-ton 130mph-capable ballistic transportation missile works. Placing the transmission in neutral. Turning ignition off. Half-second solutions that would have saved lives. We require drivers license holders to clear an incredibly low bar.

          • 0 avatar
            heavy handle

            30-mile fetch,

            It should be noted that at least some of the Toyota/Lexus do not have ignition switches, but rather start buttons. Apparently you can turn them off by pushing on “Start” for a number of seconds. That’s counter-intuitive and I wouldn’t want to test that while the CPU is already in an error state.

            I also wouldn’t want to test that a computer-controlled automatic can be switched to neutral under full throttle. It may mistakenly attempt to protect your engine instead of your life.

          • 0 avatar
            Lack Thereof

            It was Car & Driver. http://www.caranddriver.com/features/how-to-deal-with-unintended-acceleration

            They used a recalled Camry with the big 268hp V6.
            They executed 3 stops with the throttle pinned. first from 70 MPH, second from 100 MPH, and third from 120 MPH.

            On the 70 MPH stop, the Camry took 190 feet to stop (compared to 174 without throttle). The C&D editors snidely pointed out that it still stopped a foot quicker than a Taurus.
            On the 100 MPH stop, the Camry added an extra 88 feet to it’s closed-throttle baseline, but the pedal remained firm.
            From 120 MPH, the brakes were only able to bring the car down to 10MPH. The brakes were then still able to hold it at 10MPH against the engine.

            They also tested shifting into neutral and park at speed. Both worked (although park ground, as you would expect).

            The car was push-to-start, so they also tested how to shut it down at speed. Repeatedly pushing the button did nothing, but holding it down for 3.3 seconds shut off the engine.

            They repeated the tests on an Infiniti G37. Repeated button pushes would cut the Infiniti’s engine after 3 stabs, and holding it down killed the engine after only 2.5 seconds.

          • 0 avatar
            30-mile fetch

            Heavy Handle,
            It’s good to look at all angles, but I personally find the Edmunds and Car and Driver tests to be more convincing in this case than suppositions about brake fade and CPUs not responding to the ignition switch or transmission lever.

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            “I also wouldn’t want to test that a computer-controlled automatic can be switched to neutral under full throttle. It may mistakenly attempt to protect your engine instead of your life.”

            It protects the engine with the rev limiter, not the transmission.

        • 0 avatar
          heavy handle

          “Why would the brakes have any soak?”
          Because your first reaction would be to touch the brakes just a bit because you felt you were going slightly too fast. Then you would press them a little harder, still trying to get back to normal speed. It would take a while for you to understand that your car is trying to kill you (doesn’t happen every day). By that time your brakes are already heat-soaked and it’s too late.
          You may have had a chance, had you done a panic stop right away, but there’s no way that would be your first reaction.

          • 0 avatar
            30-mile fetch

            Given that Mr. Lee crashed at the bottom of an offramp, I’m going to posit that brake fade isn’t the issue in this case. Unless he willingly steered a full-throttle cooked-brake out of control car off the main freeway and onto the offramp, in which case he earns an F- in judgement.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            The mindset is the brakes will always be there. But you can’t possibly imagine complete “brake fade” until you’ve experienced it. And “brake assist” goes away after a couple stabs, while at full throttle and doesn’t return until you let off the gas.

            Yes stand on the brakes at the 1st sign of trouble!

          • 0 avatar
            30-mile fetch

            Do failed brakes eliminate one’s ability to put the transmission in neutral or turn the ignition key to the “off” position? And do they force the car to take a freeway offramp into cars waiting at the interchange light?

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            Except we’re all enthusiasts here. The general populace is extremely clueless when the unexpected happens. They panic and put their heads between their legs. Most I’m sure don’t know the function of Neutral. Then there’s far too many that believe the their steering wheel will Lock when turning the car OFF. Or that the car will flip.

            Toyota should know they’re selling to mostly inept US drivers that don’t know their heads from their A$$. Toyota set themselves up for this. Their cars, their mess to clean up.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Those hubcaps, never liked that style. But that tells me this is a 95+ Camry, with the separated brake lamps at the back. Never liked that taupe color; such a weird purple. My aunt had a same-era Corolla in that color with some sweet American Racing wheels (which came on it when they bought it used).

    I was about 10 at the time, and I remember getting in it (they had come over to show us their new purchase) and opening the glove box. I criticized out loud how it just felt cheap and fell open, as 10 year olds do.

    I got told otherwise by my mom when we got back in the house.

  • avatar
    CoastieLenn

    Here’s my issue, correct me if I’m wrong… and I’m sure someone will.

    I thought all cases involving Toyota’s “unintended acceleration” was centered around cars that were new enough to have had electronic throttles. The ’95 camry still used either Toyota’s 5S-FE 2.2L or the 3VZ-FE 3.0L V6 engine… which had no electronic throttles, but simply a cables linked directly from the pedal to the throttle body.

    How could this car have possibly had “unintended acceleration” as outlined by the candidates of Toyota’s later recall?

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I was thinking the main issue was the lack of brake override, and the floor mats causing the pedal to become stuck.

    • 0 avatar
      Lack Thereof

      It could not have. This case is alleging a different, unexplained defect, with the same result.

      It’s probably BS, though. Any time someone says “the harder I pushed on the brake, the faster it went”, their foot is on the wrong pedal.

    • 0 avatar
      TrudyBaltazar

      This liability lawsuit pertained only to the mechanical throttle for years 1992-1996 – this case was specifically the ’96 Camry LE. The design defect was proven to be in the use of plastic pulleys inside the accelerator control system (cruise control actuator). The upper plastic pulley rests up against a metal bracket. That metal bracket sits about 6-7″ from the exhaust manifold. That manifold heats up anywhere from 900-1000 deg F. Tests were conducted on the accelerator control system by heating up the inside of it to 165 deg F. and then we watched as the pulley stuck to the metal bracket and wouldn’t release the accelerator cable. It took anywhere from 4 to 6 mins during each of the 4 tests for the plastic pulley to cool down enough that it would release the accelerator cable. Not good.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Given that the Camry was 10 years old a(and presumably maintained like all Camrys) I don’t know if I can point any fingers at Toyota, even cars with decent brakes need new shoes and fluid once in a while.

  • avatar
    TrudyBaltazar

    6 seconds………..what can you do in 6 seconds? Could you put on your shoe and tie it? Could you take out your wallet/billfold and place your drivers license in my hand? Could you open a bandaid and apply it? Could you make a phone call from where your phone is right now? I don’t think any of those things can be done in 6 seconds. You think someone could stop a car speeding out of control with a stuck open throttle and hardly any brakes because all vacuum pressure depleted? I don’t think so. Was that jury not paying attention or what? 6 seconds and 550 ft was all the time Koua Fong Lee had to try and stop that ’96 Camry and first he had to swerve between two cars – that’s when he first hit his brakes and lost all vacuum pressure in his brake vacuum assist system. He had almost no brakes left when he came upon the Oldsmobile stopped at the red light at the stop of the exit ramp.

  • avatar
    TrudyBaltazar

    I was present during most of fhis liability lawsuit, it pertained only to the mechanical throttle for years 1992-1996 – this case was specifically the ’96 Camry LE. The design defect was proven to be in the use of plastic pulleys inside the accelerator control system (cruise control actuator). The upper plastic pulley rests up against a metal bracket. That metal bracket sits about 6-7″ from the exhaust manifold. That manifold heats up anywhere from 900-1000 deg F. Tests were conducted on the accelerator control system by heating up the inside of it to 165 deg F. and then we watched as the pulley stuck to the metal bracket and wouldn’t release the accelerator cable. It took anywhere from 4 to 6 mins during each of the 4 tests for the plastic pulley to cool down enough that it would release the accelerator cable. Not good.

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