By Georgia D. Koutouzos, J.D.
A jury in Texas state court awarded a combined verdict of $242.1 million—including $143.6 million in punitive damages—to a Dallas-area couple and their children after concluding that defects in the front seats of the family’s Lexus ES 300 resulted in a failure that caused significant injuries to the family’s two young children during a rear-end collision with another vehicle. After a two-week trial, the nine-man, three-woman jury found that the front seats in the ES 300 were unreasonably dangerous and that Toyota Motor Corp. and Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. failed to warn about those dangers (Reavis v. Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., August 17, 2018, Tillery, D.).
A 2002 Lexus ES 300 containing a couple and their two children was rear-ended by another vehicle on a Texas highway. The two parents were uninjured, but the two children—who had been restrained in child safety seats in the back seat—sustained serious and permanent injuries when the sedan’s two front seats failed and collapsed rearward into the back seat.
The family filed suit against the driver of the other vehicle and its owner, as well as the Lexus’s manufacturer, Toyota Motor Corp., and its nonmanufacturing seller, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., claiming that the ES 300 had defectively designed front seats and/or occupant restraints that can and do fail in rear-impact collisions. The defective design posed an unreasonable risk of severe and permanent injuries when the vehicle is rear-ended, the couple asserted. Their complaint alleged causes of action against the vehicle maker and seller for strict products liability, negligence, gross negligence, breach of warranty, malice, and gross neglect. Their lawsuit sought both compensatory and punitive damages.
Defective design/Failure to warn. The case was tried to a jury, which concluded that the front seats in the ES 300 were unreasonably dangerous and that the automaker failed to warn about those dangers. Specifically, the jury found that the Lexus was defectively designed at the time it left the possession of Toyota Motor Corp. and that the defect was a producing cause of the children’s injuries. In addition, Toyota failed to provide adequate warnings of the vehicle’s dangers that were known or should have been known by the automaker at the time that the Lexus left its possession. The jury also determined that Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. was liable as the nonmanufacturing seller of the defective ES 300, apportioning liability as follows: 90 percent to Toyota Motor Corp., five percent to Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., and five percent to the driver of the other vehicle.
Damages. Consequently, the jury awarded $48,050,000 in compensatory damages to one of the children and $44,050,000 to the other child, plus $3 million to each of the parents for past and future mental anguish. In addition, the harm to the plaintiffs resulted from gross negligence on the part of both corporate entities, the jury concluded, awarding punitive damages of $129.6 million against Toyota Motor Corp. and $14.4 million against Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.
The case is No. DC-16-15296.
Attorneys: Chip Brooker (The Law Offices of Frank L. Branson PC) for Benjamin Thomas Reavis. James W. Halbrooks, Jr. (Bowman and Brooke, LLP) and Victor Vital (Barnes & Thornburg, LLP) for Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. and Toyota Motor Corp.
Companies: Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.; Toyota Motor Corp.
MainStory: TopStory JuryVerdictsNewsStory MotorVehiclesNews MotorEquipmentNews DesignManufacturingNews WarningsNews CausationNews DamagesNews TexasNews
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