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Dallas Appeals Court Preserves Personal Injury Judgment Against Toyota

Dallas Appeals Court Preserves Personal Injury Judgment Against Toyota Background Image

On June 3, 2021, the Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed a personal-injury judgment of more than $200 million in a products-liability case against manufacturer Toyota Motor Corp. Vinson & Elkins, along with Plaintiffs’ trial counsel, Frank Branson, represented Plaintiffs, the Reavis family, on this appeal.

The judgment for the Reavis family arises out of a 2016 collision on a Dallas freeway. The two small Reavis children, three and five years of age, sustained severe, permanent brain damage when the family’s Toyota-manufactured Lexus was rear-ended at 45 to 48 miles per hour, the front seats yielded/bent backwards (as they were designed by Toyota to do), the Reavis parents moved up (ramped up) over the tops of their front seats, slipped out of their seatbelts (which failed to keep them in their seats), and launched headfirst into the back, where they made violent head-to-head contact with their small children strapped in carseats. The Court of Appeals opinion recognizes that this phenomenon is known as “ramping,” and that Toyota has known of this ramping phenomenon since at least 1992.

The jury found product defect and that Toyota was grossly negligent. Based on the jury’s verdict, the 134th District Court of Texas entered judgment against Toyota Motor Corp. for $98.7 million in actual damages and $95.2 million in exemplary damages.

On appeal, V&E obtained an affirmance of the judgment against manufacturer Toyota Motor Corp. At Plaintiffs’ request, the Court of Appeals took another Toyota entity, Toyota Motor Sales, out of the case by rendering a take-nothing judgment in that Toyota entity’s favor.

V&E partner Marie Yeates argued the case before the Dallas Court of Appeals in April 2020. The V&E team, led by Harry Reasoner, also included Tom Leatherbury, Mike Heidler, George Gerachis, Max Etchemendy, Ben Moss, Parker Cragg, Ethan Nutter and Bryan Gividen.

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