DALLAS (CBSMiami) – A civil jury in Texas found “clear and convincing evidence” of “gross negligence” by Toyota, the parent company of Lexus, concerning a 2016 crash where two parents slammed into their two young children in the back seat.
Internal documents show the cost to fix the problem would be around one dollar per seat. A jury awarded the couple $242 million.
Ben and Kristi Reavis were stopped in traffic on a Dallas expressway on the way home from church in September 2016. Their two children, three-year-old Owen and five-year-old Emily, were in the back seat in their car seats when an SUV slammed into the back of their 2002 Lexus sedan at 45 miles an hour.
The front seats collapsed, sending Ben and Kristi head first into their own children, both kids suffered lasting traumatic brain injuries.
“Traumatic brain injury is devastating,” said Kristi Reavis. “We have no idea what is coming.”
In a statement, Toyota said it respects the jury’s verdict but remains “confident that the injuries sustained were the result of factors specific to this very severe collision, not a defect in the design or manufacturing.”
“I think the jury pretty much understood that the only way you will get any movement here was to get Toyota’s attention or any other carmakers,” said Reavis’ attorney Frank Branson.
Branson showed the jury parts of a 2016 CBS News investigation where a jury awarded the Rivera family more than $124 million for a similar crash that left their son with brain damage.
“I am angry that we were never given the chance to make the decision our self. I wish I had seen that piece six months before our accident because I’d have started asking questions about my own car,” said Ben Reavis.
A CBS News investigation identified more than 100 cases where seatback collapses resulted in serious injuries or death mostly to children in the backseat.
However, the seats in cars meet or exceed federal standards for seat strength that date back to 1967, standards even a banquet chair can pass. Still, car makers and regulators have known of the potential for collapse for decades.
“It is time to step forward, step up, stand up, make a decision, this is unacceptable,” said Kristi Reavis.
Several members of Congress have called on NHTSA to change the seatback strength standard. The agency has consistently maintained it lacks sufficient evidence to take action but has also acknowledged seatback collapse is likely under-reported.
Still, the NHTSA recommends the backseat as the safest place for kids.