Toyota has won the first bellwether trial over sudden acceleration defects after a Los Angeles jury found no design defects caused a 2006 Camry to suddenly accelerate, killing its 66-year-old driver.
The jury, which began deliberating last week after two months of testimony in the case of Noriko Uno, who died in the 2009 accident, announced its verdict late Thursday. According to a courtroom video recording of the verdict by Courtroom View Network, the jury found fault on the part of another driver whose 2003 Lexus struck Uno just before her car began accelerating down a residential road in Upland, Calif. The jury awarded $10 million in noneconomic damages to Uno’s husband and son based on the negligence of Olga Bello, the other driver.
Toyota Motor Corp. immediately expressed sympathy for Uno’s family and friends.
“Regarding the verdict, 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 careful investigation—that there was nothing wrong with the vehicle at issue in this case,” wrote Toyota spokeswoman Carly Schaffner. “As an important bellwether in these consolidated state proceedings, we believe this verdict sets a significant benchmark by helping further confirm that Toyota vehicles are safe with or without brake override.”
Garo Mardirossian, of Mardirossian & Associates in Los Angeles, who represents Uno’s husband and son, did not respond to a request for comment, nor did Bello’s attorney, John Duffy, of Gray Duffy in Encino, Calif.
The trial represents the first bellwether among hundreds of lawsuits against Toyota over sudden acceleration problems in its vehicles.
Though Toyota recalled more than 10 million vehicles for defects in accelerator pedals and brake pads that could cause sudden acceleration, most of the litigation alleges problems with the electronic throttle control system. Plaintiffs’ attorneys originally asserted that such electronic defects, not the floor mats and accelerator pedals, were the real problem causing sudden acceleration.
By contrast, Uno’s survivors claim that Toyota failed to install a brake override system that would have automatically shut off the engine and saved her life.
Toyota maintained that such a system would not have stopped Uno’s car and that evidence at trial didn’t prove Uno hit the brakes. Toyota’s experts also testified that Uno’s foot could not have become stuck as her family describes.
The Uno case actually is not the first against Toyota to go to trial over sudden acceleration. In 2011, a federal jury in New York found Toyota not liable for an accident attributed to sudden acceleration. And last year, three days before trial, a state court judge in Ohio issued a directed verdict for Toyota in a warranty case.
But plaintiffs’ attorneys leading the coordinated actions—of which neither of those two cases was a part – consider both to be outliers.
The Uno case, in contrast, is a bellwether, defined as a case selected, usually by mutual agreement of both parties, to go to trial ahead of similar cases because the facts best represent the mass tort litigation as a whole. That means a verdict in the case could serve as a barometer for hundreds of personal injury or wrongful death cases across the nation.
The California state court cases are separate from a raft of federal claims that have been coordinated in multidistrict litigation before U.S. District Judge James Selna in Santa Ana, Calif. In that litigation, which involves personal injury and wrongful death actions across the country, the first trial is scheduled for November 5.
Another trial began on Monday in state court in Oklahoma.
Contact Amanda Bronstad at firstname.lastname@example.org.