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Toyota Seeks Settlement of Acceleration Lawsuits

December 16, 2013

Photo courtesy of Toyota.
Photo courtesy of Toyota.

Toyota Motor Corp. has agreed to begin intense negotiations to settle hundreds of lawsuits alleging that the automaker is liable for crashes arising from sudden, unintended acceleration, the Los Angeles Times reported. The automaker has long denied claims that its vehicle electronics have caused unintended acceleration.

Most of the 300 unintended-acceleration lawsuits in federal and state courts in the U.S. have been consolidated in southern California. The federal cases are in a U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, while the state cases are in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Last Thursday, Dec. 12, the two judges overseeing these cases issued orders indicating Toyota has agreed to an “intensive settlement process.” The judges stayed all the pending cases overseen by them, directing Toyota to begin settlement meetings on a case-by-case basis in February, the L.A. Times reported.

There are also some pending cases that were not consolidated.

Last Friday, Dec. 13, the Los Angeles Times also reported that Toyota had just settled a separate unintended-acceleration lawsuit filed in West Virginia. Terms of the agreement weren’t released. The case, filed by Opal Gay Vance, involved a 2010 Camry that allegedly accelerated suddenly and crashed into a trailer. According to Vance’s attorney, the collision left Vance with an injured back and neck. The case had been scheduled to go to trial on Jan. 21.

Back on Oct. 10, Toyota won an unintended-acceleration wrongful death case in Superior Court in Los Angeles. The jury rejected claims that the 2006 Camry involved in a 2009 fatal collision was partially responsible for the death because it didn’t have a brake override system. But just 15 days later, in Oklahoma, a jury in a different unintended-acceleration case found that the electronic throttle-control system in a 2005 Camry was defective and responsible for a 2007 crash that killed one woman and left another seriously injured.

The Oklahoma jury awarded $1.5 million each in compensatory damages to driver Jean Bookout and the family of Barbara Schwartz, who died in the crash. After this verdict, Toyota and plaintiff attorneys reached a settlement on punitive damages for the case, the details of which were not released. The Oklahoma verdict raised questions about Toyota’s ability to persuade juries in future unintended-acceleration trials.

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