The terrifying and tragic story of California Highway Patrol officer Mark Saylor and his family has come to a resolution, in the form of an out-of-court settlement with Toyota. As a St. Louis automotive product liability lawyer, I hope that the settlement helps Saylor’s family to gain some sense of closure amidst their sorrow. The accident that killed Saylor and his family became famous last year because it was one of the first stories of deaths blamed on Toyota and Lexus vehicles that had unintended acceleration problems. Saylor was a law enforcement officer trained in handling vehicles at very high speeds, making this tragedy particularly hard to blame on the mistakes or inexperience of the driver.
Saylor’s story is a particularly dramatic version of the kind of tragedy that I see frequently in my work as a Missouri automotive defect attorney. In August 2009, Saylor, 45, was driving a 2009 Lexus E350, with his wife, Cleofe, 45; their daughter Mahala, 13; and Cleofe’s brother, Chris Lastrella, 39; just outside San Diego. Lastrella called 911 to report that the car’s accelerator pedal was stuck. The Lexus raced down the freeway at speeds up to 120 miles per hour, and Saylor was unable to stop it. Lastrella ended the call by saying “Hold on and pray.” The Lexus hit another vehicle and landed in a ravine. Everyone in the Lexus was killed.
The devastated Saylor and Lastrella families filed a defective product claim against Toyota, the maker of Lexus vehicles, and a negligence lawsuit against the Bob Baker Lexus dealership, which owned the loaner car that Officer Saylor was driving while his own car was being repaired. In the negligence suit, the families allege that the loaner car had the wrong floor mats installed, and according to the Sheriff’s Department, the floor mats may have caused the accelerator to get stuck. The families’ claims against the dealership have not been resolved, but Toyota has reached a confidential out-of-court settlement with the families. Meanwhile, Bob Baker and his attorneys are concerned that Toyota did not stand with them, and wonder whether Toyota plans to help the Saylors and Lastrellas make the case that the dealership was negligent.
This case is of interest to southern Illinois vehicle defect attorneys like me because so many people have been affected by Toyota’s sudden acceleration problems. There are millions of Toyota owners, and at least 93 people are believed to have died because of this defect for which 8 million cars were recalled. It’s possible that there could be more we don’t even know about. Toyota has insisted that the vast majority of sudden acceleration has happened because of driver error, not because of defects in their cars. Toyota’s attempts to quash research into its products’ design flaws suggest that the company is not as interested as it should be in making sure there is no defect — or learning how to make sure that sudden acceleration problems do not continue. But this out-of-court settlement may signal a new willingness to make amends, if not to acknowledge the problem.
People who are hurt by automobiles with dangerous defects should speak with an experienced product liability attorney as soon as possible. If the automaker is responsible for selling a defective product, whether it knew about the defects or not, victims can require it to pay for the medical costs, lost past and future wages, and pain and suffering that their product caused. It’s important to speak with an attorney as soon as possible if you’re in this situation, because if you wait too long, you may not be able to recover any compensation, no matter how strong your case is. If you have been hurt in an automobile accident and suspect that defects in the automobile may have contributed to your injuries, Carey, Danis & Lowe can help. Please call us for a free consultation, toll-free, at 1-877-678-3400 or contact us through our website.