Jury finds Toyota liable in defective accelerator case - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Jury finds Toyota liable in defective accelerator case

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Attorneys for Montgomery, Alabama based Beasley Allen Law Firm say an Oklahoma County, Okla., jury has returned a verdict in favor of their clients, Jean Bookout and the family of Barbara Schwarz related to defective Toyota that caused injury or death.

Jean Bookout was seriously injured and Barbara Schwarz was killed when Mrs. Bookout's Toyota Camry surged out of control and crashed.

Attorneys for Beasley Allen say the jury found the Toyota software defective and that Toyota acted in reckless disregard of the rights of the plaintiffs. They say the plaintiffs proved that the software in the Toyota Camry that controlled the electronic throttle control system was poorly designed and did not conform to industry standards. 

Carly Schaffner, Business Communications Manager for Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., disputed that claim by Beasley Allen. She says the jury "only ruled in favor of the plaintiffs' on "manufacturers' product liability claims," and that "the jury did not "find" Toyota's software was defective."

Schaffner says, despite claims by Beasley Allen, "the jury may very well have based its verdict solely on the plaintiffs' other defect claims – including that lack of a brake override system in the vehicle was a defect or that the car was defective because of poor pedal clearance."

The jury returned a verdict of $3 million for the plaintiffs. Beasley Allen says following the verdict, Toyota approached counsel for the plaintiffs regarding a settlement. Schaffner says a settlement was agree to before the jury continued its deliberations on punitive damages Friday.

Regardless, the parties were able to resolve the case for a confidential amount. Schaffner says the $3M initially rewarded "is superseded by the settlement".

Toyota blamed the thousands of incidents of sudden unintended acceleration (SUA) first on floor mats and then on sticky pedals.  However, according to Toyota documents and testimony before Congress, Toyota's floor mats and sticky pedals only accounted for 16 percent of the SUA complaints. 

This was the first personal injury and wrongful death case to go to trial that blamed Toyota SUA on electronic throttle control defects and lack of a brake override system. Judge Patricia G. Parrish presided over the trial. 

Lawyers for the Plaintiffs included Beasley Allen attorneys Jere L. Beasley, J. Cole Portis, R. Graham Esdale and Benjamin E. Baker as well as Larry Tawwater of The Tawwater Law Firm in Oklahoma City.

"We are fully convinced that Toyota's conduct from the time the electronic throttle control system (ETCS) was designed has been shamefull" said Beasley Allen attorney, J. Cole Portis.  "We appreciate that the jury had the courage to let Toyota and the public know that Toyota was reckless. Hopefully, Toyota will recall all of their questionable vehicles and install a computer that will be safe."

Safety advocates have long contended the SUA problem is related to a defect in Toyota's electronic throttle control software.  Beasley Allen was one of the first law firms in the country to file a lawsuit against Toyota alleging that SUA caused a personal injury and wrongful death.

INFORMATION SOURCE: Beasley Allen Law Firm

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