It was a verdict that left Toyota little choice. Facing the potential of paying millions of dollars in punitive damages after losing an Oklahoma sudden acceleration lawsuit, Toyota Motor Corp. quickly reached a settlement with the plaintiffs, according to Jerry Hirsch, Los Angeles Times.
He reported last week that an Oklahoma City jury found that faulty electronic systems in a Camry sedan caused it to accelerate out of control and crash, killing one woman and injuring another.
The jury ordered Toyota to pay $1.5 million in compensatory damages to the driver of the vehicle, Jean Bookout, and an additional $1.5 million to the family of Barbara Schwarz, who was killed in the crash.
The jury was to rule on punitive damages on Friday. The settlement precludes that.
“Once the jury found that Toyota acted with reckless disregard, it seemed clear that the jury would award punitive damages and possibly in a substantial amount,” said Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor and product liability expert.
“Toyota wanted to avoid the adverse publicity and additional momentum for other plaintiffs that could be associated with a large punitive damage award on top of a substantial compensatory damage award,” Tobias said.
The decision, handed down late Thursday, marked the first time that the Japanese automaker has been found responsible for sudden acceleration in one of its cars.
After a brief deliberation at the end of a nearly three-week trial, the jury decided that software in the 2005 Camry's electronic throttle system was defective and caused the accident in September 2007.
After the verdict was announced, Toyota approached attorneys for the plaintiffs and asked for a settlement. The parties agreed to terms for a confidential amount before the jury considered punitive damages.
The LA Times also reports that Toyota has settled a number of sudden acceleration lawsuits out of court, including a $10-million deal reached in 2010 with the survivors of a California Highway patrolman and three family members who were killed in a runaway Lexus ES outside San Diego.
Late last year the company agreed to pay $1.6 billion to settle a class-action case brought by thousands of Toyota owners who contended that the sudden acceleration problem damaged the value of their vehicles.
Toyota still faces hundreds of personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits related to sudden acceleration.