Jury blames Toyota for fatal crash
Published 25/10/2013 | 02:41
A US jury has found car giant Toyota responsible for a 2007 crash that left one woman dead and another seriously injured after a Camry accelerated suddenly .
The jury awarded 1.5 million dollars (£925,000) in damages to Jean Bookout, the injured driver of the car, and an equal amount to the family of Barbara Schwarz, 70, who died.
It also decided Toyota acted with "reckless disregard" for the rights of others, a determination that sets up a second phase of the trial on punitive damages that is due to begin today.
After the verdict, District Judge Patricia Parrish ordered lawyers on both sides not to discuss the case publicly until after the punitive stage.
"Per the court's instructions, we cannot comment on the ruling pending the ongoing deliberations by the jury," Toyota said.
Ms Bookout, 82, was driving a 2005 Camry six years ago when it went through a junction near Eufaula and slammed into an embankment.
The lawyers for Ms Bookout and Ms Schwarz's family said the vehicle accelerated unexpectedly because of a defect in the car's electronic throttle-control system. Ms Bookout's lawyer Cole Portis said Toyota knew about the problems but concealed that information from the public.
"We believe Toyota's conduct from the time the electronic throttle-control system was developed has been shameful," he told jurors. "It's a big deal because if it doesn't work right, people get killed."
Toyota lawyers disputed those claims and blamed the crash on driver error. "Sometimes people make mistakes while driving their cars," lawyer Randolph Bibb said.
Mr Bibb theorised that Ms Bookout mistakenly pumped the accelerator instead of the brake and by the time she realised her mistake and hit the brake, it was too late to avoid the crash.
Toyota already agreed to a billion dollar-plus settlement in 2012 to resolve hundreds of lawsuits claiming economic losses Toyota owners suffered when the Japanese manufacturer recalled millions of vehicles because of sudden acceleration problems.
But that settlement did not include those suing over wrongful death and injury, and hundreds more of those lawsuits remain.
Toyota has blamed drivers, stuck accelerators or floor mats that trapped the accelerator pedal for the sudden unintended acceleration claims that led to the recalls.
In a separate case earlier this month, a jury in California found Toyota was not to blame for the death of a woman who was killed when her 2006 Camry apparently accelerated and crashed despite her efforts to stop. The woman's family was seeking 20 million dollars in damages.
A federal judge in Orange County, California, 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 claim and neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nor Nasa found evidence of electronic problems.