Toyota surmounts ‘runaway car’ case

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LOS ANGELES: A US jury recently cleared Toyota of liability for a 2009 fatal accident involving unintended acceleration, in what the Japanese carmaker hopes is a bellwether verdict for similar cases.

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Toyota, which still faces dozens of US lawsuits alleging that defects caused cars to accelerate without their drivers wanting them to, welcomed the ruling after a two-month trial in Los Angeles.

Noriko Uno died on August 28, 2009, after her 2006 Camry collided with another vehicle and then lost control at speeds of up to 145 kph, before slamming into a tree. In the LA trial, the first in a series of consolidated cases, the 66-year-old Uno’s family argued that Toyota failed to include a brake-override system that would have prevented the crash.

But the LA Superior Court jury ruled in favor of the Japanese carmaker, whose lawyers argued that Uno had simply put her foot on the gas pedal instead of the brake.

US Toyota spokesman Carly Schaffner said the company was “gratified” by the jury’s decision that the design of the car “did not contribute to this unfortunate accident.”

The verdict affirmed “the same conclusion we reached after more than three years of careful investigation—that there was nothing wrong with the vehicle at issue in this case.”

“As an important bellwether in these consolidated state proceedings, we believe this verdict sets a significant benchmark by helping further confirm that Toyota vehicles are safe with or without brake override,” Schaffner said.

Lawyers for Uno’s family had asked for $20 million in damages from Toyota.

While the jury cleared Toyota of any liability, it awarded the victim’s family $10 million in damages from Olga Belo, the driver of a Lexus who ran a stop light and struck Uno’s Camry, causing it to swerve and lose control.

Toyota lawyer Vincent Galvin told the jury during the trial; “This is a case of simple driver error—pedal misapplication. This accident was not caused by the vehicle. It was caused by the driver.”

He also claimed that Uno was hypoglycemic, distracted by the first crash and short in stature—all factors he said that could potentially cause misuse of the brake and gas pedals.

But Garo Mardirossian, lawyer for Uno’s family, said she was in no way impaired at the time of the crash.

“Her health was not an issue,” the attorney said. “Her health had nothing to do with her driving.”

AFP

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