In the first wrongful death lawsuit filed against the Toyota Motor Company over accusations of unintended acceleration, the world’s largest car maker has been found not liable for the death of 66 year old Noriko Uno, who was killed in a car accident in 2009. The lawsuit, which was brought forth by Uno’s husband and son, alleged that Toyota failed to provide adequate safety by not installing a brake-override system to Uno’s 2006 Camry sedan, which accelerated out of control and into a tree after being struck by another vehicle.
The accident that killed Uno took place on August 28, 2009, after a shopping outing when she was struck by a Lexus sedan in an intersection on Euclid Street in Los Angeles. The collision caused her foot to become stuck on the gas pedal, sending her accelerating out of control against the flow of traffic. She was able to avoid oncoming vehicles for approximately 2,600 feet before finally losing control of the vehicle and crashing into a telephone pole and a tree.
In the trial’s opening statements, the prosecution’s wrongful death lawyer claimed that Toyota had failed to fulfill its marketing claim that the Camry is one of the safest cars in the world by not installing a brake override system on board, which was already available in vehicles sold internationally at the time. With a brake override system, drivers can interrupt a vehicle’s acceleration by pressing on the brake pedal, even if the gas pedal is still depressed.
Toyota contended in their defense that such a system would not have prevented the accident, and that the company should not be held liable for safety equipment that could have potentially been installed. It was also noted that Uno’s car had no defects at the time of the accident, and it was not the subject of any acceleration-related recalls. The California jury presiding over the case ultimately agreed with Toyota’s assertions, ruling that the car maker had no liability in the fatal accident.
“Regarding the verdict,” said a Toyota spokeswoman in a statement following the ruling,” we are gratified that the jury concluded the design of the 2006 Camry did not contribute to this unfortunate accident, affirming the same conclusion we reached after more than three years of carful investigation—that there was nothing wrong with the vehicle at issue in this case.” Representatives for the Uno family have yet to make a statement.
The ruling is a victory for Toyota, but extensive legal battles remain. According to a recent regulatory filing, more than 200 proposed class action lawsuits and 500 individual lawsuits have been filed against the company since February of 2009. Earlier this week, a California judge ruled that Toyota must go to trial over claims that it failed to warn consumers about design defects that led to unintended acceleration. The case was filed by a driver who alleged that her vehicle sped out of control into a school building. The trial is set to begin on November 5.
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