Pending lawsuits against Toyota are likely to result in compensation for victims of the company’s unintended acceleration problems that eventually led to the recall of more than eight million vehicles worldwide. But for some, like Koua Fong Lee, the lawsuits will have a much more pronounced impact, potentially leading to the acquittal of innocent drivers originally considered guilty of vehicular manslaughter.
In 2007, Lee was convicted of criminal vehicular homicide after his Toyota Camry crashed in to stationary vehicles at a stoplight at more than 70 miles per hour. The accident killed a man, his 10-year-old son, and a 6 year-old girl, but left Lee and his pregnant wife (in the passenger’s seat) unharmed. When cases of unintended acceleration became more common, Lee’s attorneys launched a challenge to the jury conviction. “I also want people to know that I’m not the one who caused the accident and I try everything I could to stop my car,” said Lee on CNN’s “American Morning” today.
Last Thursday, Minnesota District Judge Joanne Smith ordered Lee’s release pending investigation into whether unintended acceleration was, in fact, the cause of the accident. Lee’s 1996 Camry was not included in the company’s many rounds of brake-related recalls, and during the original trial, experts for the state and the defense testified that the car had been inspected soon before the accident and found no brake problems. “Bottom line, two experts — one for each side — said there was nothing wrong with the car,” said Ramsey County Prosecutor Susan Gaertner.
But Lee’s attorneys say the evidence should be reconsidered in light of new information regarding unintended acceleration. After the accident occurred, for example, new information regarding Toyota brakes indicated that looking at the brake filament would have shown the brake light was on at the time of impact, “which basically was evidence in support of Koua’s story that the car was out of control and that he did everything to stop it,” said Lee’s attorney Brent Schafer.
The family of the 2006 accident’s victims became convinced of Lee’s innocence years ago and have lobbied strenuously for his release. As the family now sues Toyota on wrongful death charges, Lee’s case is expected to become a blueprint for others who were potentially wrongfully convicted of criminal fault following car accidents. And while the facts on unintended acceleration and Toyota’s knowledge of the problem become more clear, the standard for cases like Lee’s will solidify to promote fair justice.
Photo credit: LaurenV