Toyota Sudden Unintended Acceleration lawsuit ends in landmark verdict

posted on:
October 28, 2013

author:
Staff

An Oklahoma County, Okla., jury returned a verdict after a 3-week trial in favor of Jean Bookout and the family of Barbara Schwarz. Mrs. Bookout was seriously injured and Barbara Schwarz was killed when the Bookout 2005 Toyota Camry surged out of control and crashed.

Mrs. Bookout and the Schwarz estate sued Toyota Motor Corp. and Toyota Motor Sales, alleging that defects in the car’s electronic throttle control system (ETCS) were responsible for the Camry’s sudden acceleration and crash. Specifically, the plaintiffs contended that the software that controlled the system was defectively designed and failed to conform to industry standards. Moreover, Toyota was fully aware of problems with the system, but concealed them. After the introduction of the electronic throttle control system in 2001, NHTSA had put Toyota on notice of a 400% increase of unintended acceleration (UA) claims in the Camry by 2004. In searching its own database, when using the term “surge,” Toyota found 60,000 claims. But in responding to NHTSA, Toyota removed the search term “surge” and only used the term “mat” – this resulted in only 124 claims being reported to NHTSA. This was a deliberate move on Toyota’s part.

Internal emails showed that Toyota employees worked hard to “coach” NHTSA to use Toyota’s language when completing unintended acceleration investigations. Toyota contained the escalating UA claims by convincing NHTSA that the claims were caused by loose all-weather floor mats or a sticky pedal defect related to pedals provided by one supplier. James Lentz, president of Toyota’s U.S. based company, told Congress in 2010 that floor mats and sticky pedals did not relate to 70% of the unintended acceleration claims. Congress also determined that floor mat recalls and strictly pedal recalls only addressed 16% of the UA claims. Although NASA had investigated Toyota’s software, Toyota withheld certain important software source code from NASA and had misrepresented the existence of vital memory protection characteristics of the Camry throttle control system.

Toyota denied that the ETCS was defective and argued that Bookout accidentally pressed the accelerator instead of the brake pedal. But Toyota could not explain why the Bookout vehicle left a 150 foot skid mark prior to impact. Toyota’s own litigation testing proved the vehicle should have stopped before impact with a dirt bank if everything was functioning properly.

The jury found the Toyota software defective and that Toyota acted in “reckless disregard of the rights” of plaintiffs . The software in the Toyota Camry that controlled the electronic throttle control system was poorly designed and did not conform to industry standards. This was the first personal injury and wrongful death case to go to trial that blamed Toyota SUA on electronic throttle control defects. Judge Patricia G. Parrish presided over the trial. Lawyers for the Plaintiffs included Beasley Allen lawyers Jere L. Beasley, J. Cole Portis, R. Graham Esdale and Benjamin E. Baker as well as Larry Tawwater of The Tawwater Law Firm in Oklahoma City.

“We are fully convinced that Toyota’s conduct from the time the electronic throttle control system (ETCS) was designed has been shameful” said Beasley Allen lawyer, J. Cole Portis. “We appreciate that the jury had the courage to let Toyota and the public know that Toyota was reckless. Hopefully, Toyota will recall all of their questionable vehicles and install a computer that will be safe.”

The jury returned a landmark verdict for the plaintiffs in the first phase of the trial. The case was then to proceed to the second phase which would determine the amount of punitive damages. Following the verdict, however, Toyota approached counsel for plaintiffs and requested a settlement. The parties were able to resolve the case for a confidential amount before the jury considered the amount of punitive damages. Safety advocates have long contended the SUA problem is related to a defect in Toyota’s electronic throttle control software. Beasley Allen was one of the first law firms in the country to file a lawsuit against Toyota alleging that sudden unintended acceleration caused a personal injury and wrongful death. Hopefully this result will cause Toyota to make safety a real priority in the design and manufacturing of vehicles for sale to the public.

 

Read Congressional letters to Toyota CEO

Congressional letter dated February 2, 2010 (pdf)
Congressional letter dated February 22, 2010 (pdf)

 

Read Jury Verdict Forms

Jury Verdict Form – Bookout v Toyota (pdf)
Jury Verdict Form – Schwarz v Toyota (pdf)

 

Watch Verdict / Settlement News Reports

Jury finds Toyota guilty in sudden acceleration case, awards 3 million to victims
Toyota Settles Fatal Unintended Acceleration Lawsuit
- Visit our YouTube Channel for a Toyota Sudden Unintended Acceleration Playlist

 

News Sources

AutoNews.com
New York Times
LA Times
- CNNMoney 

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