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From Products Liability Law Daily, October 25, 2013

Jury awards $3 million in Toyota sudden unintended acceleration trial; parties settle before punitive damages considered

By Susan Lasser, J.D.

An Oklahoma County jury on October 24 returned a $3 million verdict in favor of the driver and the family of her passenger in an action arising out of an automobile accident that occurred when the driver’s Toyota Camry surged out of control and crashed (Bookout v. Toyota Motor Corp.amended petition filed September 16, 2009, Parrish, P.). A news release issued by plaintiffs’ attorneys, Beasley Allen Law Firm, stated that the jury found the Toyota software defective and that Toyota Motor Corp. acted in reckless disregard of the rights of plaintiffs. However, following the verdict, the parties settled the case. In a statement by Toyota on October 25 relating to the verdict and settlement, the company maintained that it strongly disagreed with the verdict, but that it was “satisfied that the parties reached a mutually acceptable agreement to settle [the] case.”

Background. Jean Bookout was driving her 2005 Toyota Camry on September 20, 2007, when she was injured in a vehicular accident. Barbara Schwarz was killed during the accident while riding as a front seat passenger. Charles Schwarz, the spouse and personal representative of Mrs. Schwarz's estate, brought action to recover for the benefit of the decedent's survivors and the estate.The complaint alleged that the defective condition of the Camry and/or its component parts caused the car to suddenly and unexpectedly accelerate as the driver was traveling down the interstate. The vehicle allegedly continued to accelerate despite Bookout's applying the brakes—including the emergency brake—and attempting to slow the vehicle. The complaint maintained that this proximately caused Bookout's injuries and the decedent's injuries and death and rendered Toyota liable to the plaintiffs under Oklahoma's manufacturer's product liability law. The complaint stated that at the time of the event, the vehicle was unreasonably dangerous and/or defective in its design, manufacture, marketing, distribution, and warnings; and that as a proximate result of the defective and/or unreasonably dangerous condition of the car, Bookout was injured (with permanent injuries that will affect her for the rest of her life) and Mrs. Schwarz received injuries that caused her death. Bookout sought compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $10 million.

Other claims asserted in the plaintiffs’ complaint included breach of warranty, negligence and wantonness, and deceit.

Verdict. The jury returned a verdict of $3 million for both plaintiffs, $1.5 million awarded to each plaintiff. According to the news release, the plaintiffs proved that the software in the Toyota Camry that controlled the vehicle’s electronic throttle control system was poorly designed and did not conform to industry standards. While Toyota placed blame for the high number of incidents of sudden unintended acceleration (SUA) first on floor mats and then on sticky pedals, Toyota documents and testimony before Congress provided evidence that Toyota’s floor mats and sticky pedals only accounted for 16 percent of the SUA complaints. The release stated that the case was the first personal injury and wrongful death case to go to trial that blamed Toyota SUA on electronic throttle control defects and the lack of a brake override system.

Settlement. The plaintiffs’ attorneys’ news release reported that the parties were able to resolve the case for a confidential amount before the jury considered the amount of punitive damages.

The case number is CJ-2008-7969.

Attorneys: Paul S. Martin (Martin Jean & Jackson) and Cole Portis (Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles PC) for Jean Bookout and Charles Schwarz. Randolph J. Bibb (Lewis, King, Krieg & Waldrop, P.C.) for Toyota Motor Corporation.

Companies: Toyota Motor Corp.

MainStory: TopStory DamagesNews SettlementAgreementsNews MotorEquipmentNews OklahomaNews

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