Jury Finds 'Reckless Disregard' in Toyota Unintended-Acceleration Death

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Following a California court victory earlier this month that Toyota had hoped would be a good omen in its unintended-acceleration debacle, a jury in Oklahoma City on Thursday found the automaker liable for the death of one woman and the serious injury of another in a 2007 crash. According to the Los Angeles Times, the jury ordered Toyota to pay $3 million in compensatory damages to both victims’ families, with unspecified punitive damages still to come based on the jury’s finding that the automaker exhibited “reckless disregard” in its response to a faulty electronic throttle system.

In the Oklahoma crash, the driver Jean Bookout, was hurt and her passenger, Barbara Schwarz, was killed when the 2005 Camry in which they were traveling accelerated out of control and crashed into an embankment. Plaintiff attorneys claimed the automaker had long been aware of problems in Camrys’ electronic throttle system that could cause the vehicle to accelerate unexpectedly, but did nothing to correct them, the Times reported. Toyota has maintained that the design of its vehicles was not to blame; a spokesman told the newspaper that the automaker would not comment on a case still in progress.

Toyota defended itself successfully in three previous trials, most recently on Oct. 10 in a case in Superior Court in Los Angeles, in which a jury ruled the automaker was not liable for the death of a California woman killed in a 2009 crash; the victim’s family had been seeking $20 million in damages. Toyota considered the ruling a harbinger that future unintended-acceleration cases — of which there are hundreds — would confirm the automaker’s vehicles are safe. During the past three years, the automaker has recalled millions of vehicles worldwide amid reports of unexpected surges, and has paid out federal penalties and settlements topping $1 billion.

Jury hits Toyota with $3-million verdict in sudden acceleration death case
(Los Angeles Times)
Jury Finds Toyota Not Liable in Camry Driver’s Death
Toyota to Pay $29 Million Settlement in Unintended Acceleration Claims

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Former Assistant Managing Editor-News Matt Schmitz is a veteran Chicago journalist indulging his curiosity for all things auto while helping to inform car shoppers. Email Matt Schmitz

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