Friday, October 25, 2013

Toyota Settlement in Unintended Acceleration Case Following $3 Million Compensatory Damages Verdict

According to the New York Times, the jury had also determined that Toyota had acted with "reckless disregard" and was about to begin deliberations on punitive damages when the settlement was announced.  The New York Times article also appropriately emphasizes that the case is noteworthy because plaintiffs' tried their claims of electronic throttle control problems.  

Though the New York Times article notes the ages of the plaintiff driver was 82 (the Los Angeles Times says she was 76), the New York Times article does not note that there have been in the past been particular concerns of pedal misapplication by older drivers, and the article does not reference a government report that found no problems in Toyota's electronic throttle control system.  According to CNNMoney, Toyota apparently argued that the plaintiff in Oklahoma case hit the gas, rather than the brake.  In response, plaintiffs pointed to long skid marks on the road, suggesting the driver was hitting the brake.  One wonders if the event data recorder in this car might have shed more light on the issue.  Toyota would certainly want to avoid having juries deciding unintended acceleration cases based on the believability of the testimony of a driver who claims to have hit the brake, rather than the accelerator.  If Toyota is unable to exclude plaintiffs' proferred expert testimony of electronic throttle control defect on the grounds that such testimony is not scientifically reliable, then Toyota should also be concerned that the jury may be unable to grasp the arcane details of software code design.  I'm reminded of the line by Robert Duvall's character in the film, A Civil Action, depicting the Woburn water contamination case; waiting for a jury decision, his character opines, "[I]t's not going to have anything to do with dates or groundwater measurements or any of that crap, which nobody can understand anyway.  It's going to come down to people like it always does."

BGS

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