Toyota Motor Corporation is liable for a 2007 crash that left one woman dead and another seriously injured when a Camry suddenly accelerated, a jury decided on October 24, 2013. According to an Associated Press news report, the jury awarded $1.5 million in monetary damages to Jean Bookout, the driver of the car who was injured in the crash and $1.5 million to the family of 70-year-old Barbara Schwarz, who died in the crash. The jury also determined that Toyota acted with “reckless disregard” for the rights of others. The case is now into its second phase when jurors will decide if the victims should be awarded punitive damages.
Crash Caused by Unintended Acceleration
The accident occurred six years ago when Bookout was driving a 2005 Camry. The car suddenly accelerated through an intersection near Eufaula and crashed into an embankment. Bookout and Schwarz’s family held that the car accelerated because of a defect in its electronic throttle control system. They also maintained that Toyota knew about the problem, but hid the information from the public.
Attorneys for Toyota disputed those claims and blamed the crash on driver error. The defense attorney argued that Bookout mistakenly hit the gas pedal instead of the brake and was unable to avoid the crash when she realized her mistake.
Legal Action against Toyota
Last year, the Japanese automaker agreed to a $1 billion settlement to resolve hundreds of lawsuits from Toyota owners claiming economic losses stemming from sudden acceleration issues. However, that settlement did not include those suing over serious personal injuries and wrongful death.
Toyota has typically blamed drivers or mechanical issues such as stuck gas pedals and floor mats for these problems that led to the recall of more than 10 million vehicles. Toyota also paid a record government fine for delaying the recall of millions of dangerous vehicles that could suddenly accelerate and pose a serious threat to consumer safety.
Will Toyota Be Punished?
As an auto product liability lawyer who is representing victims of sudden acceleration crashes, I’m pleased that the jurors found Toyota liable. It is also important that they award punitive damages in these types of cases, not only to punish manufacturers of defective products, but to send out a warning to others. Toyota stalled recalling these vehicles for years putting consumers and others in terrible danger. We will be watching the outcome of the punitive phase of this trial with great interest.