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Jury finds Toyota 60 percent responsible for tragic auto accident

Legal outcomes in cases where a vehicle is alleged to have a defect are not always black and white. Such is the case in a recent federal jury decision. The case involved a tragic accident in 2006 that killed three people -- two of them children. At the center of the case was a 1996 Toyota Camry.

The driver, who served prison time for vehicular manslaughter as a result of the crash, claims that he tried unsuccessfully to stop the car before hitting another vehicle. The plaintiffs in the suit included the driver of the Toyota, two of the other car's passengers who were seriously injured and the family of a 6-year-old girl, also in the other car, who was paralyzed and died the following year. The other car's driver and his 9-year-old son were also killed, but they were not represented in the lawsuit.

Toyota claimed that the Camry had no design defect and suggested that the driver hit the gas pedal instead of the brake. This was not the first time that Toyota has blamed driver negligence in sudden acceleration lawsuits.

The jury determined that the Camry driver was 40 percent at fault, while Toyota bore 60 percent of the blame. Toyota has been ordered to pay almost $11 million in damages to the plaintiffs. Under state law in Minnesota, where the trial was held, the division of fault means that Toyota must pay all damages, minus 40 percent of the amount that would have gone to the Camry driver.

The car involved in the accident was not among the vehicles recalled by Toyota. However, the Toyota driver's attorney noted that this case should prompt the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration to investigate the older model involved in the accident.

Both the Toyota driver and a family member of those in the other vehicle echoed the mixed emotions that many plaintiffs feel, even when they win -- that no amount of money can give them back what they lost. However, as a relative of a number of the victims said, "I think it's kind of amazing that they found Toyota at fault."

It may seem daunting to go up against powerful, well-funded companies. However, people who do can get some sense of justice for themselves and their family, not to mention needed compensation. They may also incentivize automakers and other companies to make their products safer.

Source: ABC News, "Jury: Toyota Must Pay $11M to Victims of Fatal Crash" Amy Forliti, AP, Feb. 03, 2015

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