Did Toyota make cars that accelerated suddenly leading to injuries and deaths? That question surrounding a Utah car crash will represent the first bellwether trial in national litigation a federal judge has ruled. District Judge James Selna has decided the trial will take place February 19, 2013. The case will set a precedent or benchmark for future cases that hinge on whether or not the Toyota Motor Corp., the world’s largest automaker, made defective vehicles that resulted in unintended acceleration.
The Utah case involves two families of one man and his passenger who were killed when the 2008 Toyota Camry they were riding in slammed into a wall on an exit ramp in Utah after accelerating, despite the fact that the driver applied the brakes.
Last April, a Long Island federal jury let Toyota off the hook saying an accelerating Scion that smashed into a tree was not the responsibility of Toyota. In a separate case in California, owners of Toyota can also sue for the falling value of their cars after news broke of the mass problems. Toyota has recalled 11 million vehicles over stuck gas pedals and defective floor mats since the problem of unintended acceleration surfaced in late 2009. Unintended acceleration has never been blamed on faulty electronics, but rather on driver error. As a fix, Toyota will install a brake override system in all new cars beginning in late 2011.
It will be an uphill climb for a product liability and wrongful death attorneys to prove the Toyotas were defective after NASA engineers, in a report issued earlier this year, found “no electronic flaws capable of producing the large throttle openings required to create dangerous high-speed, unintended acceleration incidents.” The report too blames a sticky accelerator pedal and floor mats that trap pedals as the only known cause of unintended acceleration.
Sources: http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/national/2011/06/13/202306.htm, http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/10/us-toyota-acceleration-lawsuits-idUSTRE75965H20110610 and http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/11/AR2011021106400.html