Jury Blames Elderly Driver in Toyota Uncontrolled Acceleration Lawsuit

Toyota Motor Corp. has obtained a defense verdict in a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of woman was killed when her car was hit by another vehicle whose elderly driver claimed that the accident was caused by problems with uncontrollable acceleration.

The case was brought by the family of Noriko Uno, who was 66 years old when her vehicle was struck by a Toyota-manufacturerd vehicle in August 2009.

The other driver, who was in her 80s at the time of the collision, claimed that the crash was caused when her vehicle accelerated out of control, forcing her to run a stop sign and hit Uno’s vehicle, which was knocked into a telephone pole and a tree.

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The accident occurred amid a number of reports involving unintended acceleration linked to some Toyota vehicles, which resulted in the recall of about 10 million Toyota and Lexus automobiles.

The California jury returned a verdict last week that cleared Toyota of responsibility for the accident, finding that the fault lay with the elderly driver of the other vehicle, who was ordered to pay Uno’s family $10 million in damages.

The case was the first of many Toyota acceleration lawsuits pending in California state court to reach a jury.

Settlements Reached in Some Cases

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.

The claims allege that the vehicles accelerated out of control, and that applying the brakes did not help. The company has indicated that hte recalls were issued because of a floor mat problems, where the mats were too thick. However, some lawsuits allege that the acceleration issues were electrical or mechanical in nature.

In addition to the growing costs of the lawsuits, Toyota was also fined $66.2 million by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for failing to address the problems in a prompt manner, and also paid investors $25.5 million to settle claims that the company tried to conceal the problem, resulting in inflated stock value.

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