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Nation/World

July 22, 2013

Toyota sudden acceleration case set to begin in Calif.

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Other cases expected to go to trial in state courts this year include one in Oklahoma and another in Michigan. There are more than 80 similar cases filed in state courts.

The Toyota litigation has gone on parallel tracks in state and federal court, with both sides agreeing to settlements so far. A federal judge in Orange County is dealing with wrongful death and economic loss lawsuits that have been consolidated. He’s expected to give final approval to the economic loss settlement next week.

Federal lawsuits contend that Toyota’s electronic throttle control system was defective and caused vehicles to surge unexpectedly. Plaintiffs’ attorneys have deposed Toyota employees, reviewed software code and pored over thousands of documents.

Toyota has denied the allegation and neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nor NASA found evidence of electronic problems. A trial in one of the lead cases is scheduled for November.

The Uno trial will likely focus on why Toyota didn’t have a mechanism to override the accelerator if the gas and brake pedals are pressed simultaneously in Camrys sold in the U.S. The automaker put the brake override system in its European fleet, Mardirossian said.

Toyota said Uno’s vehicle was equipped with a “state-of-the-art” braking system and denied that any defect played a role in her death.

“We are confident the evidence will show that a brake override system would not have prevented this accident and that there was no defect in Mrs. Uno’s vehicle,” the automaker said in a statement about the upcoming trial.

Legal observers said Uno’s attorneys won’t necessarily have to prove what was wrong with the vehicle, but show that the accident could have been prevented with a brake override system.

“If the plaintiff succeeds in convincing a jury it wasn’t human error, that it was attributed to the car, I think they have a strong case,” said Gregory Keating, a law professor at the University of Southern California. “Jurors, as drivers, are likely to believe strongly that cars shouldn’t become uncontrollable in this way.”

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