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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Toyota settles acceleration lawsuit after $3-million verdict

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Toyota Motor Corp.'s first loss in a sudden acceleration case, in an Oklahoma courtroom this week, could embolden attorneys nationwide who are looking to bring hundreds of similar cases.
Worse for the Japanese automaker, the verdict centered on the company's electronics, which have been a focus for plaintiffs seeking to prove safety defects in the company's cars.
Toyota on Friday confirmed that it had reached a confidential settlement in the lawsuit, which involved the fatal 2007 crash of a Camry. The settlement came hours after a jury assessed $3 million in compensatory damages but before the panel could levy a punitive award.
The verdict could provide a road map for attorneys seeking to hold the automaker liable for injuries and deaths.
Toyota has denied any safety defects in its cars, arguing that many incidents of unintended acceleration stemmed from drivers who stepped on the gas instead of the brake. But plaintiffs in the Oklahoma case successfully argued that Toyota's electronic throttle system was flawed, causing the car to speed out of control.
The 2005 Camry crashed into an embankment, severely injuring the driver, 76-year-old Jean Bookout, and killing her passenger, Barbara Schwarz.
By striking a quick settlement, the company likely sought to avoid bad publicity and damage to its reputation, said Jill Wieber Lens, a product liability expert at Baylor University Law School in Waco, Texas.
The Oklahoma defeat could increase pressure on the automaker to come up...
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