Toyota Must Face Trial in Sudden-Acceleration Lawsuit

Toyota Motor Corp. must go to trial in federal court over a lawsuit blaming a Camry driver’s accident and injuries on design defects in the car that caused it to accelerate suddenly.

U.S. District Judge James Selna in Santa Ana, California, in a written ruling yesterday affirmed his Sept. 30 tentative decision not to dismiss a design defect claim and an allegation that Toyota failed to warn the Camry driver about known dangers with the car. He granted the carmaker’s request to throw out manufacturing defect and negligence claims.

“Plaintiff has raised triable issues of fact that would allow a reasonable jury to find in his favor,” the judge said in his written ruling.

Ida St. John, then 83, was hurt when her 2005 Camry crashed in April 2009 in Columbus, Georgia. She died after the accident and her grandson is pursuing the lawsuit. He doesn’t claim the accident caused the death. The case is the first one to go to trial of the personal injury and wrongful death cases consolidated in federal court.

Flurry of Lawsuits

Toyota recalls for possible unintended acceleration in 2009 and 2010 set off a flurry of lawsuits claiming defects harmed the value of Toyota vehicles or caused accidents leading to death and injury. The federal suits were consolidated before Selna. Toyota settled the suits claiming economic loss for about $1.6 billion.

The 2005 Camry, the model St. John drove, wasn’t subject to any recall for unintended acceleration-related issues, according to Toyota.

“Despite nearly three years of litigating this case and unprecedented access to Toyota’s source code, plaintiff’s counsel have never replicated unintended acceleration in a Toyota vehicle and have failed to demonstrate that any alleged defect actually caused the accident at issue in this case,” Carly Schaffner, a spokeswoman for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. in Torrance, California, said in an e-mailed statement. “We are confident the evidence at trial will confirm that Toyota drivers can depend on their vehicles to provide safe, reliable transportation.”

The federal cases are combined as In re Toyota Motor Corp. Unintended Acceleration Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation, 8:10-ml-02151, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Santa Ana).

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