Texas Jury Awards $242 Million in Toyota Defective Seatback Case
A Dallas jury has ruled that Toyota Motor Corporation manufactured a Lexus with defective seatbacks, which resulted in permanent brain damage to two young children during a 2016 crash on North Central Expressway. According to a news report in the Dallas Business Journal, jurors deliberated for about eight hours over two days and ordered the Japanese automaker to pay $242 million — $144 of it in punitive damages to Benjamin and Kristi Reavis, the parents of Emily 7, and Owen, 5.
Compensatory and Punitive Damages
Jurors ruled that in spite of widespread knowledge of seatback failure in the automotive industry, Toyota was consciously indifferent to fixing the problem in its vehicles. The verdict also marks Toyota’s first major trial loss since it relocated from California to Texas. The Reavises sued Toyota after a rear-end collision on Sept. 24, 2016 caused their front seat to collapse into the back seats, where their children were seated. In addition to filing an auto defect lawsuit against Toyota, the family also sued the driver who struck them from behind.
Jurors found Toyota 95 percent liable for the children’s injuries and the other driver, 5 percent liable. The jury, in a unanimous decision, awarded nearly $50 million to 7-year-old Emily Reavis and $44 million to the 5-year-old Owen for their injuries, loss of earning capacity, past and future medical expenses and past and future pain and suffering. Each of the parents was also awarded $3 million in damages. With regard to the punitive damages, jurors, slapped $129.6 million on Toyota Corporation and $14.4 million on Toyota Motor Sales.
Defective seatbacks are certainly one of the automotive industry’s dirty little secrets. Our law firm has represented catastrophically injured plaintiffs in cases against leading automakers helping them receive millions of dollars in compensation. During independent tests our law firm has conducted, we’ve found that the seatbacks in most vehicles in not much stronger than lawn chairs. Of course, they meet federal standards, but those standards are woefully inadequate and have not been updated in decades.
There is no use in holding out hope that automakers will voluntarily improve the strength and safety of seatbacks. However, these types of large verdicts that hit these large corporations where it hurts them the most – their bottom line – could help effect positive change in this regard. For decades, automakers have resisted this change because they have been profits before people. We commend this trial team for their significant victory and hope it helps hasten much-needed change in seatback regulations.