After favorable verdicts in New York, Philadelphia, and most recently Los Angeles, an Oklahoma jury has found Toyota liable in an unintended acceleration incident which injured one woman and killed another. Toyota now owes $3 million, following the jury’s decision to award $1.5 million for each claim.
"Per the court's instructions, we cannot comment on the ruling pending the ongoing deliberations by the jury," said Toyota spokeswoman Carly Schaffner in a statement.
Jean Bookout, now 82, alleges that her 2005 Toyota Camry sped out of control as she was leaving an Oklahoma highway in 2007. The car ran through an intersection and crashed into an embankment, injuring her and taking the life of her friend Barbara Schwarz, 70, who was in the passenger seat.
While previous cases have also contended Toyota vehicles accelerated unintentionally, this is the first trial to lay blame on the vehicle’s electronic throttle-control system. Bookout’s lawyer argues that Toyota was aware of the defect, but failed to inform the public.
“We believe Toyota’s conduct from the time the electronic throttle-control system was developed has been shameful,” said attorney Cole Portis, addressing the jury. “It’s a big deal, because if it doesn’t work right, people get killed.”
Additional punitive damages are being discussed today, following the jury’s conclusion that Toyota acted with “reckless disregard” for the safety of others. Toyota maintained that the crash was the cause of human error, rather than the result of any defect in the vehicle.
Massive recalls in 2009 and 2010 forced Toyota to settle suits to the tune of $1.6 billion, concerning issues with faulty floor mats and accelerator pedals in Lexus and Toyota vehicles.
Although this is the first case where Toyota has been found liable, the Japanese automaker is due to appear in Santa Ana, California federal court next month. Another case is scheduled for February 2014 in Michigan state court.