Toyota has reached a settlement agreement in a product liability lawsuit brought by the family of two people killed in an accident, which was allegedly caused by sudden acceleration of their Toyota Camry. Problems with uncontrollable acceleration led to the recall of millions of Toyota vehicles in 2009 and 2010, and the auto maker still faces hundreds of lawsuits brought on behalf of vehicle owners.
The settlement came in a Toyota wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of Paul Van Alfen and Charlene Lloyd, about one month before the lawsuit was scheduled to go before a California jury on February 19. Details of the settlement have not been disclosed.
Van Alfen and Lloyd were killed in 2010, when the Camry driven by Van Alfen allegedly accelerated out of control and failed to stop when he applied the brakes. The car slammed into a rock wall and the two were killed. Two other passengers in the car, Van Alfen’s wife and son, were injured in the crash. They have indicated that Van Alfen slammed on the brakes to stop the car, to no avail.
The agreement comes less than a month after Toyota announced 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 recall of more than 10 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles. However, that amount did not address personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits filed against the company.
All 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). The first trial is slated to begin in February 2013.
The claims allege that the vehicles accelerated out of control, and that applying the brakes did not help. The company blames the problem on floor mats that were too thick, but some accusations claim that the problem is 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.