The first wrongful death suit against Toyota involving the 2009-2010 sudden acceleration issue has begun in California. The case concerns the death of Norika Uno who died in a 2009 crash. Attorneys suing the automaker on behalf of Uno’s family are asking for $20 million in damages after Uno’s defective Camry accelerated and crashed without warning.
The sudden acceleration issue and resulting media coverage forced Toyota to issue a massive recall of millions of its defective vehicles worldwide. Toyota recently agreed to pay over $1 billion to settle a variety of claims against the company related to loss of value in the cars.
In Uno’s case, the plaintiff’s attorney is arguing that Toyota is at fault because it failed to install an override system in the 2006 model Camry she was driving at the time. The brake override system would have allowed Uno to at least bring her vehicle to a stop, something she frantically attempted to do prior to the deadly accident. The family’s attorney also is arguing that Toyota failed to warn customers what to do in cases where the accelerator became stuck. Nowhere in the owners’ manual was the issue addressed so drivers like Uno were completely unprepared when the problem occurred.
Witnesses will be called to the stand to testify that Uno’s Camry was traveling at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour before it veered the wrong way down a one-way street, ultimately slamming into a tree. Her family says Uno repeatedly pressed the brake to no avail and photos taken after the crash show that the emergency hand brake was pulled all the way up in the “on” position.
Toyota claims that in Uno’s case an override braking system would not have prevented the accident. Toyota instead blames Uno for the crash, saying it occurred because of driver error. Toyota’s lead counsel will bring up the fact that Uno suffered from diabetes; a condition they claim hampered her judgment. Toyota’s attorney also claims that Uno failed to hit the brake, instead stepping on the gas pedal. However, Toyota has not addressed why the handbrake was engaged.
Experts believe the trial will last two months and say it will serve as a critical test for Toyota as other wrongful death lawsuits are still waiting to be heard. If the case goes against the automaker then settlements would need to be very high to resolve the remaining cases surrounding the defective vehicles.