A jury has ordered a Toyota dealership in Philadelphia to pay six crash victims $15.7 million for its negligent maintenance and repair of the 2006 Toyota Sienna rental in which they were riding.
According to the March 19 verdict, the jury accepted the plaintiffs' argument that Central City Toyota failed to properly follow the manufacturer's inspection and maintenance recommendations for the minivan, plaintiffs' lawyer, Kenneth Fulginiti of Duffy + Partners in Philadelphia, told Automotive News.
The dealership blamed the crash on operator error, Fulginiti said.
Defense lawyer William Schaefer of Hendrzak & Lloyd in Center Valley, Pa., declined to comment on the verdict.
The crash occurred in March 2008 when a ball joint failed and the minivan went off the road and into a ravine on a family trip to New York.
Fulginiti said the dealership had serviced the vehicle for a rental agency eight times in the year before the accident. It had most recently been serviced three months before the crash that injured driver Noreen Lewis and five relatives, he said.
The trial in Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas lasted more than four weeks. After 1½ days of deliberation, the jury awarded $11.4 million to Lewis and $4.3 million to the passengers who were hurt.
"At least this dealer should learn to follow the manufacturer's recommendation," Fulginiti said. "They didn't do the state inspection and didn't follow the manual. They're only doing Toyotas. They should know what Toyota wants."
He said his clients will now ask the judge to add about $1.5 million in interest.
The suit originally included Toyota Motor Corp. and several Toyota affiliates; McMahon Leasing Inc., the company that owned the vehicle; and several other defendants that the plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed from the case before trial.
Fulginiti said that at trial, he told the jury it should clear the rental agency, PhillyCarShare, based on testimony that the agency had brought the Sienna to the dealership eight times for repair and maintenance.
"We didn't think it proper to argue they should have brought it in a ninth or 10th time," Fulginiti told Automotive News.
He said Central City Toyota has more than enough insurance to cover the verdict.
Fulginiti also said he expects the dealership to seek a new trial.