Toyota has been dogged with lawsuits for years over claims of unintended acceleration in their cars, but they've never actually lost a case that went to a jury — until yesterday. An Oklahoma jury ruled the automaker must pay $3 million for two claims over an injury and a death related to unintended acceleration.
Bloomberg reports that the case dealt with a 2005 Toyota Camry driven by 76-year-old Jean Bookout which reportedly sped out of control while exiting an Oklahoma highway in 2007. The car crashed, injuring Bookout and killing her passenger, 70-year-old Barbara Schwarz.
The jury ruled that Camry's electronic system was defective and Toyota acted with "reckless" disregard, Bloomberg reports. The automaker must pay $1.5 million for each claim, and the jury today is considering punitive damages as well.
A lawyer for Bookout said Toyota knew as far back as 2004 that they had issues with out of control cars, and blamed its electronic throttle-control system. Bookout's lawyers said that sticky floor mats do not explain all of the unintended acceleration cases that have popped up.
But a lawyer for Toyota said there was no mechanical issue with the Camry and said Bookout instead made a mistake while driving — possibly pushing the accelerator instead of the brake as she left the highway.
Evidently, the jury didn't buy that explanation. This case is just one of several hundred claims filed against Toyota in state and federal courts over out of control cars, one that previously involved massive recalls and a PR crisis.
As I noted before, this is the first time Toyota has lost such a case, although they did settle a class-action lawsuit over unintended acceleration that cost them a staggering $1.3 billion, which was good for lawyers and basically no one else.
In the first standalone case in California that happened earlier this month, a jury ruled that a driver in his 80s was at fault, not the car. And when the federal government investigated the crashes, they found that pedal mix-ups were largely the cause of the crashes, a position we at Jalopnik have maintained for years.
But hey, you can convince a jury of anything. It will be very interesting to see how juries view the hundreds of other cases headed to trial in the next few years. Sure, $3 million is a drop in the bucket for Toyota — they probably earn that much in a week's worth of Corolla sales or something crazy like that — but public perception problems are more expensive in the long run.
One thing is for sure: these headaches are far from over for Toyota.
Hat tip to Ilya!