Toyota Defect Lawsuit Results in $3M Jury Award

An Oklahoma City jury has awarded $3 million in damages over an accident that involved a Toyota Camry that allegedly accelerated out of control due to problems with the vehicle’s electronic throttle control system. However, the final verdict may be substantially higher after the jury determines whether punitive damages should be awarded.  

The case involves a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of Barbara Schwarz and an injury lawsuit brought by Jean Bookout, who was the driver of a 2005 Toyota Camry that crashed in 2007 after she was unable to stop the vehicle from accelerating.

Following trial, the jury determined on Thursday that Toyota Motor Corp. should pay $1.5 million to the family of Schwarz and $1.5 million to Bookout. The second phase of the trial is expected to begin today to determine whether additional damages should be awarded to punish Toyota for acting with reckless disregard for the safety of its customers.

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Problems with Toyota vehicles accelerating out of control resulted in millions of Toyota and Lexus cars being recalled in 2009 and 2010. The company has always claimed that the acceleration problem, which sparked hundreds of Toyota lawsuits, was due to overly thick floor mats, but many plaintiffs say the problems were electrical in nature.

Toyota has been fined millions by federal safety regulators who determined the company knew about the problems long before they issued the recalls.

The Oklahoma jury rejected Toyota’s claim that this particular crash was due to driver error, instead appearing to accept the plaintiffs’ argument that the problem was caused by the Camry’s electronic throttle-control system.

The verdict comes just days after a California jury handed down a defense verdict in favor of Toyota in a similar case brought by the family of Noriko Uno, who died after her vehicle was struck by a Toyota driven by an elderly driver who claimed her car suddenly accelerated out of control. Toyota was able to convince that jury that driver error was the contributing factor to the crash and Uno’s death.

Toyota has already settled some wrongful death lawsuits filed against the company and the auto maker previously announced that it was setting aside $1.1 billion to settle claims by Toyota customers that the resale value of their Toyota vehicles was damaged by reports of sudden acceleration problems and the recalls. However, that amount did not address personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits filed against the company.

All federal lawsuits over the Toyota recalls have been centralized and consolidated under Judge James V. Selna for pretrial proceedings in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in Santa Ana as part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL). But those cases do not include a number of claims filed at the state court level like the Bookout lawsuit.

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