A lawsuit concerning Toyota’s unintended acceleration issues recently concluded in Oklahoma City, awarding the plaintiffs $3 million in a jury verdict. Auto accident attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm highlight this important case, as it may help predict the outcome of future Toyota unintended acceleration cases.
The jury found Toyota responsible for “reckless disregard” in the 2007 crash, which killed one woman and seriously injured another. Reckless disregard charges are often used in auto cases when defendants are caught drag racing or engaging in similarly dangerous behavior. Likewise, the jury decided that in failing to identify and promptly correct the defective parts that caused the unintended acceleration, Toyota acted with malice and disregard for its consumers.
The women were driving in a 2005 Toyota Camry, which was later discovered to have defective electronic throttle systems. Without warning the Camry accelerated out of control, causing it to speed through an intersection and crash into an embankment. Plaintiffs alleged that Toyota had long been aware that the electronic throttle systems were defective, but failed to notify consumers or take any action to correct the problems.
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Despite denying its knowledge of the defects, Toyota launched massive recalls starting in 2009 concerning the sudden acceleration. In addition to the recalls, in 2012 Toyota agreed to pay over $1 billion to consumers who purchased vehicles with the unintended acceleration defects. Plaintiffs in that class-action lawsuit claimed that their vehicles were devalued by the defects.
The first recall, in 2009, was spurred by an accident in California, when a Lexus ES 350 suddenly sped out of control and crashed, killing the driver and three passengers. The federal government subsequently opened an investigation into the acceleration issues, concludeding that Toyota’s did indeed accelerate uncontrollably more often than any other automaker.
Consequently, in 2009 and 2010 alone, Toyota recalled over 8 million vehicles in the U.S. and was fined nearly $83.5 million by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The company’s CEO even apologized for the ordeal in a testimony before Congress, promising to reorganize its quality control practices.
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Although Toyota has managed to win three of the previous trial involving unintended acceleration issues, we believe that this latest case may change the trajectory of future litigation. The company has maintained throughout all previous trials that it was wholly unaware of the electric throttle system defects, however, the jury in Oklahoma wasn’t buying it this time. This is particularly interesting because Oklahoma is not known as a state to be sympathetic to these types of injury plaintiffs. There are hundreds of other sudden acceleration lawsuits currently pending in court, the next one is scheduled to begin in November 2013.
More Bad News
As if Toyota needed more reasons to worry, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, one of the most cited and influential sources for researching car safety, recently dropped recommendations for the Toyota Camry, along with four other car models (the RAV4, Prius V, and Audi A4). This was revealed in the Institute’s most recent Consumer Reports, which lists the Most Reliable Vehicle Brands.
The drop was based on a new safety test, the small-overlap test, which was introduced in 2012 and was designed to replicate a crash where only the front corner of a vehicle strikes an object, such as a tree or barrier. This is one of the most common, and most fatal types of accident, usually causing serious injury and death in front-seat occupants, even in cars with otherwise high safety ratings.
So far the Institute has subjected about 60 cars and SUVs to this new test, and only 11 vehicles earned a “good” rating. Another 15 rated as “poor,” suggesting that many automakers will have to redesign their newer models in order to do well on the tests.
Toyota will undoubtedly have to engage in some major damage-control to rebuild their once pristine image as a family-friendly automaker committed to safety. Our team of auto accident attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm are all too aware of what can happen when automakers fail to make consumer protection a top priority. If you or a loved one was seriously injured in an accident caused by a defective vehicle part, you may be entitled to significant compensation, and should contact our office today for a free legal consultation.