After a five-week trial and a day and a half of deliberation, a Philadelphia jury awarded a total of $15.7 million to plaintiffs in a product liability lawsuit against Central City Toyota. Dr. Noreen Lewis was driving a Toyota Sienna minivan rented from PhillyCarShare and serviced by Central City Toyota when a ball joint broke and sent the minivan rolling down a ravine. She was travelling with five passengers, who are the other plaintiffs in the suit. Dr. Noreen Lewis, a family physician, has no use of her left arm as a result of the accident. She was awarded $11.4 million for her injuries and $4.3 million was divided among the five passengers.
The accident occurred on March 8, 2008, approximately four months after the vehicle was inspected on December 3, 2007 by Central City Toyota. The plaintiffs in the case argued that the ball joint was defective when the minivan was inspected, making Central City Toyota liable in the lawsuit. Initially, defendants in the lawsuit included Toyota Motor Corporation, several Toyota affiliates, and PhillyCarShare, but the plaintiffs dismissed these defendants from the trial.
In its defense, Central City Toyota made three claims: the ball joint was not defective either before or after the vehicle was inspected; PhillyCarShare should have told Dr. Lewis to stop driving the minivan when the check engine light came on and it started shimmying; and Dr. Lewis was driving too fast for being on a wet road. Central City Toyota and its expert witnesses’ credibility took a major blow, however, when the jury learned on cross-examination how much the experts were being paid for their testimony – revealing a possible bias. A senior mechanical engineer from Utah was paid $100,000, and a mechanical engineer from Texas was paid $300,000. But in the end, jurors indicated that the main factor influencing their decision was the evidence showing that the faulty ball joint was the cause of the accident.
Initially, Dr. Lewis was seeking $15 million in damages and the other five plaintiffs were seeking $2.85 million. During the trial, Central City Toyota offered $1.7 million to settle the case. Now, the plaintiffs are seeking to add $1.5 million in interest.