In an important development in the Toyota sudden acceleration debacle, a jury in Oklahoma became the first in the country to declare the company liable for the deaths of innocent vehicle occupants. The jury verdict prompted Toyota to reach a settlement with the injured driver of the 2005 Camry and to the family of the passenger who was killed in the crash.
The judge presiding over the case said that Toyota reached a deal with the plaintiffs following the jury’s finding that the company owed them $3 million in damages. To avoid having the jury decide the issue of punitive damages, Toyota reached an undisclosed settlement, with many saying the company was afraid to see how high such a judgment might go.
Legal observers have been closely watching the case as an important test given that it was the first where plaintiffs argued that it was the car’s electronics that caused the unintended acceleration. Specifically, plaintiffs claimed that software connected to the Camry’s electronic throttle-control system was responsible for the loss of control over the vehicle which ultimately caused the fatal accident.
For its part, Toyota has denied any electronic problems played a role in this or any accident. The car company has said that driver error, sticky floor mats and accelerator pedals are to blame for the accidents and so far the tactic has worked for Toyota, which had won all previous unintended acceleration cases to head to trial. In this case, Toyota’s attorneys argued that the driver mistakenly pumped the gas pedal instead of the break when her Camry ran through an intersection and slammed into a wall, something the jury refused to believe.
Experts say that given this important victory for injured consumers, it is now possible that Toyota will consider settling the remaining cases. The automaker is facing dozens of other wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits that say the electronic systems in the Toyota vehicles are responsible for the sudden acceleration. Others have noted that the big verdict came out of Oklahoma which is seen as conservative and not a very plaintiff-friendly place to litigate such product liability cases, something that doesn’t bode well for Toyota.
Experts say it is possible Toyota will want to litigate a few more cases before pushing for a larger settlement. No matter what happens, the results in Oklahoma mean that injury attorney across the country now know Toyota can be defeated on the issue of electronic involvement in sudden acceleration cases, something that might work to the benefit of dozens of drivers who were injured or killed in such accidents.