MonthJanuary 2015

Bob Hilliard Startled Courtroom in 1996 Toyota Camry Liability Lawsuit

Bob Hilliard certainly knows how to deliver a closing argument. Lee Carr of Carr Engineering had been on the stand all morning on this last day of the trial. I missed most of Carr’s testimony due to other commitments, but I was present during Bob’s cross examination of Carr and I heard both closing arguments.

Lee Carr had shown a video during his testimony (he was a witness for the defense (Toyota). Mr. Carrr said his firm had conducted some road tests on their course and they video taped various driver’s reactions  to show how people would react when the  vehicle they’re driving experiences a stuck throttle. One of the drivers tested was of a 60 yr old female who had supposedly accidentally hit the gas pedal instead of the brake when the car experienced this intentional stuck throttle. The video showed different screen shots all at once: one of the driver’s hands on the steering wheel, one of the driver’s feet showing what the feet were doing, and one showed a view of the course ahead through the windshield.

When Mr. Carrr played the video, he pointed out (with bullet points on the screen at conclusion) that this woman had been “driving along” on the course when they intentionally opened up the throttle on the vehicle. Mr. Carr said this 60 yr old woman had swerved in a zig-zag motion around some cones, but the main focus was on her feet. Suddenly after the throttle supposedly stuck open, the video showed her pumping the gas pedal (instead of the brake). Well Mr. Hilliard used this evidence against Toyota and Mr. Carr in his closing statement. According to Star Tribune who covered this case, Carr Engineering had been retained for $1.4 million for this trial and  Carr Engr had received a total of $34 million from car manufacturers over a period of time. I should mention the $1.4 million included the services/testimony of Karl Stopchinksi as well.

When Mr. Hilliard played the video during his closing argument he pointed out the three bullet points in the summary portion of Carr’s video. #1) Mr. Carr said this woman had been “driving along”. However, Mr. Hilliard pointed out the odometer in the video as we watched the video again. Mr. Hilliard paused the video at the point just prior to the woman pumping the gas pedal – so this would have been just prior to the throttle becoming intentionally stuck open. Well Bob pointed out the odometer showed she was driving 1 mph – yes one mph. Mr. Carr said she had been “driving along”.

2nd bullet point: Mr. Carr said the woman drove in a zig-zag pattern to avoid the cones. As mentioned earlier, one of the screen shots was of the driver’s hands on the steering wheel. Mr. Hilliard asked the jury to watch the driver’s hands ONLY and notice how her hands never move  and the steering wheel never moves. In order to move in a zig-zag pattern, you have to turn the steering wheel back and forth some, but it never happened in this video. Her hands remained still and calm and were located on the bottom portion of the steering wheel.  Her hands weren’t even in the 10:00 and 2:00 position.

Third bullet point of Mr. Carr’s: she had swerved around some cones. Mr. Hilliard asked us to focus on the screen shot of the course ahead as this woman is supposedly driving. He asked the jury, “do you see any cones anywhere?” There were none that we could see. Was Mr. Carr’s testimony of this video really the truth? Based on what I saw, I would have to say no. Actually, I don’t see how any of Mr. Carr’s testimony can be trusted. By the way, you know how much Mr. Hilliard paid for his two engineers who conducted tests and testified? $55-$65 thousand.

More of Mr. Hilliard’s compelling closing argument will be in my next post.

Toyota Case Going to Jury 1-28-15 In ’96 Camry Stuck Throttle

I will post more details about what’s been happening in the court room this last week.

It’s interesting how a consumer could be blamed for a design defect. I don’t agree with that and there needs to be more protection for consumers in my opinion.

This week Steven MacClean from Exponent took the stand as a witness for Toyota. He made some claims regarding the heat durability tests of the nylon 6/6 resin used to make the plastic pulleys Toyota has in their ’96 Camry. But after his testimony, Bob Hilliard cross examined him. Bob asked MacClean if he was aware that Exponent was the company who testified that the amounts of asbestos fibers released from handling brake shoes (used in older drum brakes) and pads (used in newer disc brakes) either were harmless or in insufficient quantities to cause disease. Of course, it was proven later that asbestos caused mesothelioma and tens of thousands have died from exposure to asbestos. Yet Exponent had claimed the material was safe.

Bob then asked MacClean if he was aware that Exponent had done testing of MVBT contaminant found in drinking water that Exponent had claimed was safe. The contaminant was later found to be very dangerous and cancer causing. MacClean said he was not aware of that.

Bob asked MacClean if he was aware that Exponent was the company who conducted the Ford crush tests which later turned out to be inaccurate.

Bob asked MacClean if it would surprise him to learn that Toyota alone had paid a total of $42,906,000 to Exponent for testing services over a period of time. From 2003 to 2009 it was 9 million and then a sudden spike in 2009 and 2011 that equals a total of $31 million. Quite a spike/payment in just two years. I can’t help but wonder if Exponent feels a sense of loyalty to Toyota and wondered if one could even trust what they say.

Toyota’s claims vs. Expert Testimony

This week and last week I heard a lot of testimony about Koua’s ’96 Toyota Camry increasing speed vs. holding a steady speed when the throttle is stuck. Toyota claimed in court that if a vehicle has a stuck throttle, the speed limit of the vehicle should stay the same. Toyota claimed this week that Koua must have been stepping on the accelerator pedal since the speed of his car increased on the exit ramp.  Well Andrew Irwin explained that one very well.

Andrew was asked by Bob Hilliard, “does a vehicle always maintain the same speed when the throttle is stuck?” Andrew said, “no, it depends on the terrain and whether the car is going uphill, downhill, or staying on flat surface”. Well the exit ramp that Koua took has an incline like many exit ramps do, so when his car began going uphill, the acceleration increased in order to try and maintain the same speed. The last portion of the exit ramp Koua was on flattens out and that is when his car sped up because it was still trying to accelerate at a faster speed. Makes sense to me.

It’s very sad to see the media not telling the whole story. I am here to tell the whole story because it is wrong for Toyota to blame this man for the accident when it has already been proven in court where the defect lies in the Accelerator Control System. You can’t put a plastic pulley up against a metal bracket when that metal bracket is just inches from the exhaust manifold. The bracket is going to heat up at some point and since Toyota didn’t put anything in between the bracket and the pulley, the pulley eventually heats up and sticks to the metal bracket once the bracket is hot.

Heat Test Results of Accelerator Control System in 1996 Toyota Camry Revealed

Thursday, January 15, 2015 Court Events: Bob Hilliard (Koua’s lawyer) showed in court (on the monitors for all in court to see), a deposition from a Toyota employee who designed the accelerator control system for the 1996 Camry). The deposition stated heat tests were conducted on the two plastic pulleys found inside Accelerator Control System (ACS) units of the 1996 Toyota Camry. The entire ACS unit with plastic pulleys were tested by John Stilson and proven to malfunction when the ACS unit is heated to a certain temperature,

I mentioned in my last post that mechanical engineer John Stilson heated the ACS unit for 30 minutes to 165 deg F and the top plastic pulley that the accelerator cable goes into became stuck to the metal bracket and the pulley wouldn’t release the accelerator cable. It took approx. six minutes for the pulley to cool down enough to release the accelerator cable in Mr. Stilson’s first heat test. Remember, the upper plastic pulley rests against a metal bracket and that metal bracket sits just inches from the exhaust manifold which heats anywhere from 900-1000 degrees while  driving.

Toyota’s deposition shown in court stated that heat tests were conducted on these plastic pulleys for 8 days @ 248 deg F. John Stilson used a hair dryer for 30 minutes and got the upper pulley to heat up to 165 deg and the upper pulley wouldn’t function properly at that temperature. We watched a video of the heat tests and watched how long it took for the plastic pulleys to cool down and release the accelerator cable.

On cross examination, one of Toyota’s lawyers asked John Stilson, “Did you even think of taking this 1996 Camry that you have in your possession, hook up some thermocouples inside the ACS unit, drive the car around for thirty minutes and check what temperature the inside of the ACS unit actually heats up to in real life situation?” (I’m paraphrasing). John Stilson’s reply: “No, because I wanted to follow Toyota’s specification”. It is listed in Toyota’s service manual that if you want to test for malfunction due to heat, use a hair dryer. I would say Stilson’s tests were conducted properly and the results are credible.

1996 Toyota Camry Defect Design Revealed in U.S. Federal Court Today 1-14-15

Court events from January 14, 2015 Toyota Lawsuit

Two wonderful things to post about. 1) The design defect in some ’96 Camry throttle body units (accelerator control system) was proven in court today. The accelerator control system (ACS) on the 1996 Camry has two pulleys in it that control the accelerator cable (which is attached to the gas pedal). Well in Koua Fong Lee’s ’96 Camry (and some other ’96 Camrys) those two pulleys are made of plastic. The side of the upper plastic pulley butts up against a metal bracket and that metal bracket sits just inches from the engine. When that throttle body and metal plate heat up, the upper plastic pulley can bind up and won’t release the accelerator cable.  It gets stuck to the metal bracket (at times).

When Koua’s lawyer asked the expert (John Stilson) what he used to heat up the throttle body, John said he used a hair dryer. Many in the courtroom were surprised. Koua’s lawyer asked Mr. Stilson why he used a hair dryer and Mr. Stilson said, “because that’s what is listed in the 1996 Toyota Camry Service Manual to test for malfunction due to heat”. It took Mr. Stilson only 30 mins to heat the throttle body to 165 deg F and he conducted five tests (four shown on video in court) to record how that heat affected the upper plastic pulley and caused it bind up and stick to the metal bracket. It took between 5 and 7 minutes for the upper pulley to cool down and release the accelerator cable.

John Stilson designed a different accelerator system completely eliminating the need for a throttle body, to show how easy it is to design the accelerator/throttle system which won’t cause the accelerator cable to stick.

The other wonderful testimony today was by Andrew Irwin who specializes in reconstruction of accidents. Since the accident in June, 2006, Toyota and other experts have claimed that Koua’s brakes were in good working condition. But today Koua’s lawyer asked Andrew if he did any tests to check the brake vacuum assist system in Koua’s car. With no vacuum pressure in brakes, you have what’s called “hard brakes”. When the inspectors checked Koua’s vacuum assist system, they noted there was no vacuum pressure in the system. Mr. Irwin said one of the inspectors/experts pumped in 25 inches of vacuum pressure into Koua’s brake vacuum assist system and it filled the system. After stepping on the brake pedal one time, they lost 40% of the vacuum pressure. After releasing the brake and stepping on the brake one more time, they lost all vacuum pressure in Koua’s brakes. This explains why Koua had lost his brakes after stepping on them twice when he swerved between the first two cars he came upon on the exit ramp – that’s when he lost all vacuum pressure in his brakes. By the time he came upon the Oldsmobile stopped at the red light ahead, there was no vacuum pressure left in his brake system. Keep in mind he had only 550 feet (5.1 seconds) to react when he realized his brakes were not working properly.

Never once since Koua’s accident in 2006 has Toyota been able to prove that Koua did NOT step on the brakes. Put aside trying to prove that he DID step on the brakes. They can not prove that he didn’t. If they could prove that, they would have by now. There’s no way Koua’s brake vacuum assist system would have been depleted of vacuum pressure if he had not stepped on his brakes.

Toyota Lawsuit for 1996 Camry – Day 3 of Testimony in Federal Court

Today Andrew Irwin took the stand, he reconstructs accidents and one of the software programs he uses in determining some of his results is called ED-SMAC. He showed a blown up picture of Koua Fong Lee’s left rear brake light bulb, specifically focusing on the filament. He said the filament reached 2000 degrees in the breake bulb from Koua’s  car and due to the shape of the filament, he is 100% certain that Koua was stepping on the brakes at the time of impact. Lawyer asked Andrew if there was anything else that could possibly cause this filament to act and look how it does and Andrew responded, “No”.  Toyota’s defense for this case has always been and still is that Koua never stepped on the brake and that he accidentally stepped on the gas instead.

The main defense attorney on this case is Bob Hilliard. He was one of the attorneys handling the BP oil spill in southern United States and he is also involved in the GM lawsuit. In his opening statement during this particular lawsuit which is being held before The Honorable Judge Ann Montgomery in Minneapolis Federal Court, Bob showed a hugely blown up image of a  test method/spec that Toyota uses when testing their Accelerator Control System (ACS) on the 1996 Camrys before determining if they are safe and reliable enough to release for sale. Turns out, the pulleys in all the ACS units that Toyota tested are metal pulleys. Well Koua’s ACS unit does not contain metal pulleys, they are plastic. These pulleys control the accelerator cable and this ACS unit sits just inches from the engine and the ACS unit is not fully encapsulated. The cover to the ACS unit goes around and on top of the unit, but the bottom is not covered at all. There is also no scheduled or required or suggested maintenance in any of Toyota’s manuals for these ACS units. Since this information was made during an opening statement, it has not been proven just yet. Testimony on that is coming Tuesday.

Will post a blog after court on Tuesday.

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