National News

December 14, 2013

Toyota to enter settlement negotiations

SANTA ANA, Calif. — After a four-year legal battle, Toyota is entering settlement talks on nearly 400 state and federal lawsuits that allege sudden unintended acceleration problems with its vehicles led to deaths and injuries.

Joint motions filed late Thursday in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana and Los Angeles County Superior Court indicated both sides would begin an “intensive settlement process” next month.

The Japanese automaker, which has recalled millions of cars since 2009 over the acceleration issue, agreed to the negotiations to make resolving the cases more efficient, spokeswoman Carly Schaffner told The Associated Press on Friday.

“We continue to stand behind the safety and quality of our vehicles,” she said.

Cases that don’t settle after a two-stage mediation process will go back to court for trial, said plaintiffs’ co-lead counsel Mark Robinson Jr., but most of the 375 claims will likely get resolved.

“It’s not practical to try all these cases,” he said. “You’ve got two chances to get your case settled and if you’re a plaintiff, at least you’re not just sitting in some file in the courthouse.”

The settlement negotiations come less than two months after an Oklahoma jury awarded a total of $3 million in damages to the injured driver of a 2005 Camry and to the family of a passenger who was killed.

The ruling was significant because Toyota had won all previous unintended acceleration cases that went to trial. It was also the first case where attorneys for plaintiffs argued that the car’s electronics — in this case the software connected to the Camry’s electronic throttle-control system — were the cause of the unintended acceleration.

At the time, legal experts said the Oklahoma verdict might cause Toyota to consider a broad settlement of the remaining cases. Until then, Toyota had been riding momentum from several trials where juries found it was not liable.

Robinson said attorneys for plaintiffs had been discussing a streamlined settlement process with Toyota before that verdict, but the Oklahoma case “couldn’t have hurt” those talks.

Toyota has blamed drivers, stuck accelerators or floor mats that trapped the gas pedal for the acceleration claims that led to the big recalls of Camrys and other vehicles. The company has repeatedly denied its vehicles are flawed.

No recalls have been issued related to problems with onboard electronics. In the Oklahoma case, Toyota attorneys theorized that the driver mistakenly pumped the gas pedal instead of the brake when her Camry ran through an intersection and slammed into an embankment.

Sean Kane, president of Massachusetts-based Safety Research & Strategies, said the Oklahoma verdict likely moved Toyota to the negotiating table because it targeted electronics.

“Nobody did until that case and they got hammered — and they got hammered in a conservative venue,” said Kane, who researches consumer safety in motor vehicles for plaintiff attorneys and has been closely following the Toyota litigation.

“The evidence that came out in that trial has attracted global attention that is remarkable,” he said.

After the verdict, jurors told AP they believed the testimony of an expert who said he found flaws in the car’s electronics. They also pointed to 150 feet of skid marks on the road as evidence the driver was desperately trying to brake.

“What makes the accelerator open? The computer,” juror Vickie Potter said after the verdict.

Toyota pointed out that no one has been able to replicate the unintended high-speed acceleration despite access to the automaker’s software.

“The bottom line is that there are no real-world scenarios in which Toyota electronics can cause a high-speed unintended acceleration event,” Schaffner, the Toyota spokeswoman, said at the time.

Toyota previously agreed to pay more than $1 billion to resolve hundreds of lawsuits claiming that owners of its cars suffered economic losses because of the recalls. But that settlement did not include those suing over wrongful death and injuries. Those lawsuits have been consolidated in the state and federal courts in California.

In October, Toyota won a California state court case in which plaintiffs argued the automaker was liable for the death of a woman whose 2006 Camry crashed because the company hadn’t installed a system that could override the accelerator. The woman’s family was seeking $20 million in damages.

———————

Associated Press Writers Tom Krisher in Detroit and Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.

 

1
Text Only
National News
  • NASA’s space station Robonaut finally getting legs

    Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs.

    April 19, 2014

  • Documents detail another delayed GM recall

    Government documents show that General Motors waited years to recall nearly 335,000 Saturn Ions for power steering failures despite getting thousands of consumer complaints and warranty repair claims.

    April 19, 2014

  • Captain of sunken SKorean ferry, 2 crew arrested

    The captain of the ferry that sank off South Korea, leaving more than 300 missing or dead, was arrested Saturday on suspicion of negligence and abandoning people in need. Two crew members also were taken into custody, including a rookie third mate who a prosecutor said was steering in challenging waters unfamiliar to her when the accident occurred.

    April 19, 2014

  • Asia seeks Obama’s assurance in territorial spats

    As President Barack Obama travels through Asia this coming week, he will confront a region that’s warily watching the crisis in Ukraine through the prism of its own territorial tensions with China.

    April 19, 2014

  • Delay won’t quell 2014 wrangling over Keystone XL

    Democrats sweating this year’s elections may be hoping that the Obama administration’s latest delay to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline takes a politically fraught issue off the table for the midterms.

    April 19, 2014

  • 5 features an Amazon phone might offer

    A report this week in The Wall Street Journal that Amazon is planning to release a smartphone has prompted industry analysts and technology blogs to muse about what the device might offer.

    April 19, 2014

  • Colorado deaths stoke worries about pot edibles

    A college student eats more than the recommended dose of a marijuana-laced cookie and jumps to his death from a hotel balcony. A husband with no history of violence is accused of shooting his wife in the head, possibly after eating pot-infused candy.

    April 19, 2014

  • Boston prepares for huge wave of marathon visitors

    With an expanded field of runners and the memory of last year’s bombings elevating interest in one of the world’s great races, the 2014 Boston Marathon could bring an unprecedented wave of visitors and an influx of tourism dollars to the area.

    April 19, 2014

  • Autopsy to ID dead boy; body cast off side of road

    All Massachusetts authorities could say for sure is that they found the lifeless body of a small boy, apparently cast off the side of a highway.

    April 19, 2014

  • 10 Things to Know: This Week’s Takeaways

    Looking back at the stories to remember from the past week:

    April 19, 2014