The family of a teen killed when the rear axle on their 1999 Toyota 4Runner broke won a $12 million verdict in South Carolina Thursday.
Lacee Dial was killed Sept. 15, 2012. She was 17 and a high school senior. The lawsuit claimed that, after the axle fell apart, her 4Runner rolled over and hit a utility pole and that she was trapped for approximately two hours in the vehicle before she died from her injuries.
The case was tried in the Anderson County Court of Common Pleas. The jury awarded $6 million for Dial’s pain and suffering and $6 million in wrongful damages to her parents, according to court documents.
“This verdict reminds companies that they will be held responsible for defective products that kill people,” said the plaintiffs attorney Chris Glover, managing attorney of the Atlanta office of Beasley Allen. “The defendants knew the vehicle that killed our clients’ daughter was unreasonably dangerous, yet they refused to take responsibility for Lacee’s needless death. … This is why the jury system is so important. It’s the only place this family could get justice for their daughter.”
Beasley Allen Principal Ben Baker worked with Glover on the case. He added, “It’s always hard when a parent has to bury their child, and no verdict can ever take away the pain. But when a company like Toyota shows nothing but reckless disregard for life and their products contribute to injuries and death, as was the case with Lacee, it is important to hold those bad actors accountable.”
The 70-lawyer firm has offices in Atlanta and Montgomery, Alabama.
Joel Smith, executive managing partner of Bowman and Brooke in Columbia, defended Toyota. He was not available for comment.
Smith, according to the firm website, has previously represented Toyota in the unintended acceleration litigation and Honda in connection with the recall of Takata air bags.
The Dials alleged the Toyota 4Runner had a serious manufacturing defect that caused the rear axles to crack and ultimately fail during everyday driving. Court documents indicate that the suit claimed the vehicle’s axle was defectively manufactured using a process that overheated the metal and created weakness, which Toyota disputed, attempting to have the plaintiffs’ expert’s theory of liability deemed inadmissible.
The Beasley Allen attorneys cited National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s records show that 31 incidents of rear axle fracture in the vehicles were reported prior to the manufacture of Lacee’s 4Runner.
The plaintiffs’ case also relied on an eyewitness account from a motorist who saw the rear axle fail while Lacee was traveling down the road, Glover and Baker said.
The case is Donald L. Dial, Personal Representative of Lacee Michaela Dial vs. Toyota Motor Corporation, et al, C.A. 2013-CP-04-01483 in the Court of Common Pleas of Anderson County, South Carolina.