Toyota Wins New York Case over Unintended Acceleration

April 4, 2011

A federal jury found that Toyota Motor Corp. isn’t responsible for a 2005 crash that the driver blamed on the floor mat or the electronic throttle, in the first case to go to trial since automaker recalled millions of its vehicles.

After 45 minutes of deliberation Friday, the jury found Toyota was not liable for product liability for the Scion’s floor mat or for the absence of a system that allows the brake to override the accelerator when both are pressed.

The car’s driver, 59-year-old Long Island physician Amir Sitafalwala, contended that defects in the electronic throttle system or the floor mats caused him to suddenly accelerate and crash into a tree. U.S. Magistrate Judge E. Thomas Boyle ruled out evidence about the car’s electronics earlier this week.

Sitafalwala’s 2008 lawsuit was the first to go to trial since Toyota recalled millions of vehicles beginning in 2009.

In a written statement, Toyota called the verdict an “early indicator of the strength of the legal theories behind unintended acceleration claims” against it.

“We believe that this case sets an important benchmark for unintended acceleration litigation against Toyota across this country,” the statement said.

Toyota has recalled more than 14 million vehicles globally to fix gas pedals and other safety problems, including more than 2 million that were recalled in February to address accelerator pedals that could become entrapped in floor mats or jammed in driver’s side carpeting.

The company paid the U.S. government a record $48.8 million in fines for its handling of three recalls.

U.S. regulators said earlier this month that electronic flaws were not to blame for reports of sudden, unintended acceleration.

Hundreds of claims from around the U.S. related to the recalls have been consolidated under one judge in a U.S. District Court in California.

In December, Toyota agreed to pay $10 million to the family of four people killed in a runaway Lexus crash in California that led to the recalls. Investigators determined that a wrong-size floor mat trapped the accelerator and caused the August 2009 crash.

Topics USA New York

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