LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A jury Thursday ruled Toyota Motor Corp. was not liable in the death of an Upland woman whose Camry slammed into a tree after being struck by another driver in 2009.
The lawsuit — seen as a bellwether for dozens of pending lawsuits against the car maker — sought $20 million in damages and was the first in a series of cases alleging defects in Toyota models caused unintended acceleration.
Noriko Uno was struck by another driver who ran a stop sign on Aug. 28, 2009, causing her to swerve out of control and strike a tree at speeds of 80 to 90 mph.
Throughout the two-month trial, attorneys for the family of 66-year-old Uno argued the presence of a brake-override system in the victim’s 2006 Camry would have prevented the deadly crash.
“It was bittersweet,” said Jeff Uno, the victim’s son. “Kind of happy that the matter is behind us, at the same time saddened; obviously I think about my mom everyday.”
Lawyers for Toyota said the absence of a brake-override system was not a defect and “doesn’t make it defective — it just makes it old,” according to attorney Vincent Galvin.
The system was added in 2011 to all Camry models sold in the U.S. market.
Garo Mardirossian, the attorney for Uno’s family, countered Toyota had issued a recall for 2007 Camrys but failed to address issues in the 2006 models.
Galvin told the jury the crash was caused by driver error and claimed Uno likely pushed the gas pedal instead of the intended brake pedal.
“This is not a stuck-pedal case,” Galvin said in court. “This is a case of simple driver error: pedal misapplication.”
Lawyers for the car company argued Uno was at risk for the factors shown to potentially cause a driver to misuse the gas and brake pedals because she was short in stature, hypoglycemic and distracted after being struck by the other vehicle.
Madirossian said Uno’s health was irrelevant.
“Her health had nothing to do with her driving,” he said.
Despite clearing Toyota of liability, the jury awarded Uno’s family $10 million in damages from Olga Belo, the driver who struck Uno in her Lexus.
“The decided in favor of Toyota on this occasion, but they decided against the other defendant for a reasonable sum, $10 million for the loss of a 66-year-old mom, and a wife,” said the Uno family’s attorney.
Speaking on behalf of the company, Carly Schaffner, business communications manager for Toyota Motor Sales USA, said Toyota was “gratified” by the ruling which affirmed “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.”
“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,” said Schaffner.
In July, a judge approved a $1.6 billion settlement from the car maker in a class-action lawsuit against Toyota over sudden-acceleration problems.
The $1.6 billion settlement included an estimated $406 million plan to install brake-override systems for some Toyota owners, and another $250 million available for current owners who are ineligible for the brake system.
The car maker has also agreed to a $250 million fund for owners who lost money on their vehicles from Sept. 1, 2009 to Dec. 31, 2010 due to negative publicity surrounding acceleration issues.
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