Toyota not liable for freak car death
A jury has found that Toyota is not liable for the death of a woman who was killed when her car apparently accelerated and crashed despite her efforts to stop.
Jurors deliberated for about five days before concluding the 2006 Camry's design did not contribute to the death of Noriko Uno, who died in August 2009 when she was struck by another motorist, sending her vehicle into a telephone pole and tree.
Ms Uno's family was seeking 20 million dollars (£12 million) in damages, claiming the crash could have been avoided if Toyota had installed a brake override system. The jury found the 86-year-old motorist who ran a stop sign and hit Ms Uno should pay the family 10 million dollars (£6 million).
Toyota blamed driver error for the crash.
The company recalled millions of vehicles worldwide after drivers reported some vehicles were surging unexpectedly. It has already agreed to pay a billion dollars (£626 million) in lawsuits filed in federal courts.
The outcome of the lawsuit involving Ms Uno could influence whether Toyota should be held responsible for sudden unintended acceleration as part of a larger group of lawsuits filed in state courts.
"As an important bellwether in these consolidated state proceedings, we believe this verdict sets a significant benchmark by helping further confirm that Toyota vehicles are safe with or without brake override," Toyota spokeswoman Carly Schaffner said.
Plaintiff's lawyer Garo Mardirossian argued Toyota made safety an option instead of standard by not installing a mechanism to override the accelerator. He added the Japanese firm also failed to warn customers what to do if an accelerator became stuck.
Toyota defended its vehicles, saying it had a state-of-the-art braking system, and argued that an override component would not have prevented the crash. The company's lawyers said Ms Uno, from Upland, California, probably mistook the accelerator for the brake.
Toyota has blamed the driver, stuck accelerators or floor mats that trapped the accelerator for the sudden unintended speed claims that led to the massive recall of vehicles.
The Toyota litigation has gone on parallel tracks in state and federal court, with both sides agreeing to settlements so far. A federal judge in Orange County is dealing with wrongful death and economic loss lawsuits that have been consolidated.
Federal lawsuits contend that Toyota's electronic throttle control system was defective and caused vehicles to surge suddenly. Plaintiffs' lawyers have deposed Toyota employees, reviewed software code and pored over thousands of documents.
Toyota has denied the allegation, and neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nor Nasa found evidence of electronic problems. A trial in one of the lead cases is scheduled for early November.
The Uno case is the first so-called "bellwether" case in state courts, which is chosen by a judge to help predict the potential outcome of other lawsuits making similar claims.
Other cases expected to go to trial in state courts this year include one in Oklahoma and another in Michigan. There are more than 80 similar cases filed in state courts.