As we previously reported, a wrongful death lawsuit against Toyota Motor Corporation began in a Los Angeles court on August 8, 2013, and is expected to last about two months. According to a news report in The Associated Press, the case involved the death of Noriko Uno, a woman whose 2006 Toyota Camry suddenly accelerated and crashed into a tree. The 2009 accident occurred in Upland, east of Los Angeles, when another driver went through a stop sign and broadsided Uno’s car at slow speed. This case is the first involving the Toyota sudden acceleration issue to go to trial in state court. The plaintiffs, in this case, Uno’s family members, are seeking $20 million in damages from the automaker.
The plaintiff’s attorney alleged during opening statements that Toyota was at fault for the death of Uno because it failed to install an override safety system in the 2006 model she was driving. The attorney stated that Toyota consciously made a decision to leave out the override system in the 2006 Camry. Witnesses are expected to testify during the trial that they saw Uno’s car traveling at speeds of up to 100 mph as it careened the wrong way down a one-way street. Toyota issued a statement that the 2006 Camry Uno was driving had a “state of the art braking system” and that it had earned “top safety and quality honors.” The automaker also issued a statement saying that an override system would not have prevented the crash.
Toyota’s attorney in his opening statement told jurors that the accident was not the result of a vehicle defect, but driver error. He said Uno’s health problems including diabetes may have hampered her judgment after she was hit by another driver at the intersection before the crash. He claimed that she became “hypersensitive” and took off at 80 mph. He also said Uno never hit the brake. Uno’s attorney showed photos during his opening statement of the hand brake in the “on” position.
Toyota Auto Product Liability Issues
Toyota recently agreed to pay more than $1 billion in a class-action lawsuit to consumers who claimed that the value of their vehicles had plummeted as a result of the vehicle recalls due to the sudden acceleration issue. Toyota recalled more than 11 million vehicles after discovering problems with sticky accelerators and faulty floor mats in many vehicle models that caused sudden and unintended acceleration. Toyota also paid nearly $35 million in government fines for stalling these recalls and putting millions of consumers in danger.
Issues involving sudden acceleration were a PR disaster for Toyota, which they have managed to overcome. Toyota is back in position at the top automaker in the United States. As an auto products liability lawyer who is representing victims of Toyota sudden acceleration defects, I will be very interested to see the type of evidence that comes out during this two-month trial.