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Judge increases jury award car manufacturer owes plaintiffs

Most personal injury or wrongful death claims don't make it to trial. Carefully prepared cases based on solid evidence can lead to successful settlement negotiations. When the responsible party is a huge automobile manufacturer and the circumstances involve a product recall for safety reasons, it's not surprising that the parties end up in court.

Recent news reports outline an unusual twist to one of these cases. Records show a judge ruled that the car maker named as defendant in a defective motor vehicle lawsuit has to pay a larger penalty than the jury in the cases demanded. The collective award has reportedly been increased from $10 million to $14 million.

The story began in 2006 when a 1996 Toyota Camry was traveling on a Midwest highway. The driver, his wife and family members were in the vehicle. The driver contended his brakes failed before his car plowed into another car stopped at a red light. Three people were killed and two others seriously injured in that car. Vehicular homicide and careless driving convictions for the driver led to a jail sentence of eight years. The manufacturer subsequently recalled 2008 and 2009 models for the brake problem, and he was able to challenge his convictions on those grounds.

In 2014, a jury found the man 40 percent responsible for the accident, and the car 60 percent at fault, awarding him $1.25 million. Court records show his family joined a lawsuit filed by the family of a victim who died in the crash. The judge in that current case reduced his original award to $888,246.58, and lowered judgments to his family members. Reports are, however, that the victims in the car hit by the Camry did better with the judge than the jury in their case. A $4 million award to the estate of the one victim was increased by the judge to $7.3 million for example. Other awards were adjusted considering interest and pretrial settlements. The defendant's motion for a new trial was denied, although it has an opportunity to appeal within 30 days.

This report illustrates the complicated nature of some personal injury lawsuits. Every accident case has unique components that can benefit from an experienced evaluation and skillful application of the law.

Source: Courthouse News Service, "Toyota Must Pay $14M Liability for 2006 Crash," Adam Klasfeld, accessed June 18, 2015

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