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A federal court in Miami, Florida, granted Toyota's post-verdict motion for judgment as a matter of law in an order dated January 4, 2013. United States District Court Judge Kathleen Williams's ruling set aside a February 2012 jury verdict for the plaintiff, Ritzy Romero. Ms. Romero contended that she was injured in a rollover crash due to defects in the 1994 4Runner's handling and stability and roof. Ms. Romero, age 32, became a quadriplegic as a result of the crash. After a nearly three-week trial, the jury awarded Ms. Romero $12,254,745. The Court reduced this verdict according to the 80% fault the jury attributed to the driver that struck her 4Runner and caused the rollover, meaning Toyota's share of the verdict was $2,450,949. Given that the 4Runner was 15 years old at the time of the accident, plaintiff normally could not sue Toyota for product liability due to Florida's statute of repose. However, plaintiff contended that an exception to the statute of repose allowed her to proceed based on Toyota's alleged actual knowledge that the 4Runner was defective and that Toyota had concealed the alleged defects from the public. In its verdict, the jury found that Toyota did not have actual knowledge of or conceal any defects related to the 4Runner's handling and stability, but that it did know of and conceal a defect in the vehicle's roof.
After the verdict, both sides filed various post-trial motions. In its renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law, Toyota argued that plaintiff failed to present any evidence that Toyota knew that the 1994 4Runner's roof was defective, or that Toyota took affirmative steps to conceal the alleged roof defect—both of which plaintiff needed to prove by substantial factual and legal support in order to circumvent Florida's statute of repose. Toyota also argued that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury's finding that the 4Runner was defective; however, the Court did not reach this issue in light its ruling on Toyota's statute of repose defense. The Court held that there was insufficient evidence that Toyota had actual knowledge of the alleged defect in the 4Runner's roof. The Court further held that Toyota did not conceal evidence of an alleged defect in the 4Runner's roof. Accordingly, the Court set aside the jury's verdict and entered judgment in favor of Toyota.
Toyota was represented by David W. Graves, Jr. and Bard D. Borkon of Bowman and Brooke LLP, Minneapolis, MN; and Robert J. Rudock and Loren W. Fender of Arnstein & Lehr LLP, Miami, FL. Plaintiff was represented by Justin Parafinczuk, Daniel Koch, and Marcus Susen of Koch, Parafinczuk and Wolf, P.A., Fort Lauderdale, FL; and Joel Perwin, of Joel S. Perwin P.A., Miami, FL.