Toyota Claims Plaintiffs Fabricated Fatal Acceleration Theory

By | October 2, 2013

Toyota Motor Corp. said plaintiffs’ lawyers seeking to blame a fatal accident on unintended acceleration made up a theory of how a 66-year-old woman’s foot got stuck between the gas and brake pedal of a 2006 Camry.

Toyota’s lawyer, Vince Galvin, made his closing statement Monday before a jury in Los Angeles County Superior Court. The plaintiffs, the husband and son of Noriko Uno, seek $20 million in damages, alleging that if the Camry had had a brake- override system, Uno would not have died because the car would have stopped when she was trying to brake.

It is the first wrongful death case to go trial related to a series of Toyota recalls for sudden, unintended acceleration. Uno’s family claims that her right foot got stuck between the pedals as a result of an initial accident, causing her car to speed out of control down the wrong side of a residential road as she tried to brake with her other foot.

“It’s a made-up theory,” Galvin told the jurors. “There was no stuck foot.”

Galvin said Uno wasn’t applying the brakes as she drove off after her car was struck by another vehicle that ran a stop sign. Toyota alleges Uno drove away from the scene of that initial crash without exchanging information with the other driver, made two turns and sped half a mile down the wrong side of the road until she struck a tree.

‘Pedal Misapplication’

“Brake override is not a solution for pedal misapplication,” Galvin said. “Under the circumstances of this accident, brake override would not have made a difference.”

A brake-override system causes the engine to stop accelerating when the gas and brake pedal are pushed at the same time. Toyota claims Uno was cognitively impaired because of her medical condition, including diabetes and a liver ailment, and mistakenly stepped on the gas instead of the brakes.

The fact that the handbrake of Uno’s car was pulled up is evidence she was trying to stop the car, Garo Mardirossian, the family’s lawyer, said earlier in his closing statement. She ended up hitting a tree when she tried to avoid oncoming traffic while she accelerated out of control, he said.

“She tried everything to stop that car,” Mardirossian said. “This poor woman had no choice but to do what she did.”

Brake Override

It would have cost Toyota next to nothing to install brake override in the 2006 Camry because the car already had the necessary hardware and it was only a software patch, the lawyer said. Toyota recalled the 2007 Camry, after Uno’s fatal crash, to install brake override in that model, Mardirossian said.

The Toyota City, Japan-based carmaker settled economic-loss allegations brought by U.S. drivers after the recall of more than 10 million vehicles worldwide in 2009 and 2010 for potential unintended acceleration with causes such as stuck accelerators and floor mats that shifted out of position.

That settlement was valued at as much as $1.63 billion by plaintiffs’ lawyers.

Uno’s 2006 Camry wasn’t among the Toyota vehicles recalled as part of the 2009 and 2010 recalls for possible unintended acceleration-related issues.

California Superior Court Judge Lee Smalley Edmon instructed the jurors before the start of closing statements that they could award punitive damages, in addition to non- economic and property damages, if they found there was “clear and convincing” evidence of malice. Toyota sought to exclude the possibility of punitive damages from the verdict.

Mardirossian is expected to give a rebuttal statement this afternoon after the lawyer for the woman involved in the initial crash, who is also a defendant in the case, gives his closing statement. The jury is expected to start deliberations tomorrow.

The cases are In re Toyota Motor Cases, JCCP4621, California Superior Court, Los Angeles County (Los Angeles).

–Editors: Peter Blumberg, Andrew Dunn

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