More than two years after the federal Department of Transportation concluded that there was no electronic reason for unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles, plaintiffs in related personal injury lawsuits are still going to court and winning. That was the subject of a Bloomberg News story this month, outlining the ongoing product liability claims against Toyota in courts around the United States. Reports of unintended acceleration in Toyota and Lexus vehicles began surfacing nearly a decade ago, often with news stories about drivers who were helpless to stop their vehicles from plowing into objects or, in one case, going over a cliff. The reports caused a series of recalls, numerous lawsuits, a drop in Toyota’s market share and several studies, including the federal study. Despite that finding, lawsuits continue, including a bellwether case in California that may set the standard for claims elsewhere.
Toyota’s original reaction to the unintended acceleration reports was to suggest that drivers were mistakenly hitting the accelerator instead of the brake. It later recalled its floor mats, saying they could entrap the gas pedal and cause uncontrollable acceleration. Some consumers always doubted this, however. They were bolstered by published reports about the relatively new electronic accelerators included in the early-2000s vehicles implicated by the reports. In response to this growing chorus of complaints, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration undertook the study mentioned in the Bloomberg News story, using NASA software experts to look for software problems that could explain the problems. They ultimately found only a rare problem with the electronic throttle, but the NHTSA still said it would propose a rule requiring every vehicle to have a brake override.
This conclusion hasn’t stopped families hurt by unintended acceleration accidents from pursuing lawsuits. An Oklahoma jury decided in October that the software in a 2007 Camry was defectively designed, leading to an accident that killed a passenger and seriously injured a driver. The case settled after the jury awarded $3 million in compensatory damages and before it could consider punitive damages. In another case, a man in Minnesota was freed from prison after being convicted of causing a crash that killed several people. And the bellwether case in California involves the estate of a woman who was injured in a 2009 crash. The products liability attorney in that case will likely argue that the NHTSA study was not extensive enough, Bloomberg News said. The judge in that case refused to rule that the NHTSA study put the issue to rest; he said that’s an issue for a jury to decide.
I strongly agree. Juries are the finders of fact in our court system, which means they should be permitted to reach their own conclusions from all the facts. Because I have followed this issue for some time, I’m aware that the NHTSA study was more nuanced than Bloomberg is reporting here, and that it has its critics in the automotive science community. Unintended acceleration accidents are extremely serious, because there’s literally almost nothing a driver can do to stop them. That’s part of why we’re still hearing about these cases, and it’s certainly why Toyota still faces hundreds of auto accident lawsuits around the United States. Drivers who believe they were affected should not hesitate to explore their legal options.
Carey, Danis & Lowe represents clients who were hurt in serious auto accidents that were no fault of their own—including accidents caused by defective cars or car parts. If you’d like to tell us your story and learn more about your legal options, call us today for a free consultation at 1-877-678-3400 or send us a message through our website.
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