By Emily Cox
A Dallas jury slammed Toyota with a $242 million verdict Friday, finding that the defective front seats of a Lexus caused two small children’s serious injuries in a rear-end collision and that Toyota carries most of the blame for their severe injuries.
According to their lawsuit, Benjamin and Kristi Reavis were driving a 2002 Lexus ES 300 with their two young children in the back seat in 2016. When Michael Mummaw read-ended their vehicle, both front seats malfunctioned, collapsing into the rear of the vehicle and the young children. Consequently, both children suffered skull fractures and traumatic brain injuries.
On Friday, the jury found that the front seats were clearly defective and that Toyota knew of these defects and took no action to keep its consumers safe, holding Toyota Motor Corporation and Toyota Motor Sales liable for gross negligence. The jury ascribed 95 percent of the blame for the Reavis’ injuries to the companies, awarding a total verdict of more than $242 million, including $144 million in punitive damages, while attributing the remaining 5 percent of the blame to Mummaw.
The verdict included $3 million each for Benjamin and Kristi Reavis’ mental anguish, more than $18 million each for the children’s physical impairment, $21.5 million for the future medical expenses of one child, and $19 million for the other child’s future medical expenses.
The jury deliberated for about eight hours before returning with the Toyota verdict.
“This is a danger that Toyota has known about,” Reavis’ attorney said. “This company has had plenty of time to design around these safety shortcomings or at least provide the public with warnings. Our children deserve better.”
Toyota Case and Trial
The Reavis family filed their lawsuit in November 2016. The family alleged that the accident happened while Bejamin Reavis was driving the family’s 2002 Lexus ES 300 on State Highway 75 in Dallas County. According to the complaint, all the family members were properly restrained when Mummaw rear-ended their car.
Mummaw and his passenger, as well as the Reavis parents, all emerged from the accident relatively unscathed. However, during the “otherwise survivable collision,” the Lexus’ two front seats collapsed backward, striking the Reavis children in their heads, fracturing their skulls and causing other severe and irreparable injuries.
During the two weeks of testimony, the plaintiffs’ legal team documented substantial engineering, design, and structural defects with the Lexus’ front seat backs, saying Toyota consciously prioritized protecting front seat occupants at the expense of rear-seat passengers.
Toyota argued that the plaintiffs failed to present any evidence that a safer alternative design could have prevented the Reavis children’s injuries.
Plaintiffs’ expert, Gary Whitman, only evaluated the design of the front seats and the seat belt restraints on the ES300. He proposed several alternative designs and suggested that they would be best deployed in some degree of combination,” Toyota said. “But at no point did Whitman proffer any competent evidence that his alternative design would have prevented plaintiffs’ injuries here.”
However, the jury disagreed Friday, finding the Lexus’ seat contained significant design defects and that an alternative design would have reduced injury risk in this case and was technologically and economically feasible when Toyota sold the Lexus in the lawsuit.