A Woman's Death, An Accelerating Car And A Nightmare Lawsuit For Toyota

Toyota Mat

Yesterday we noted that the Toyota recalls are triggering the filing of lawsuits.

We weren’t the only ones — The Am Law Daily discussed the “rat race” as well, nothing a team of 15 plaintiffs firms has filed a $1 billion suit in Florida.

A lot of these suits will be pesky headaches for Toyota — drivers who are uninjured but can no longer driver their cars, for example.

But when you have major product malfunctions like this, for all the screams for tort reform and lawyers gone wild, there’s a tragic case that shows how serious these things can be and raises a lot of questions about who knew what and when.

The New York Times highlights such a fact scenario today — a 77-year-old grandmother, and former autoworker, was driving in her own neighbourhood when several witnesses say her car accelerated out of control, ran several red lights, dodged other cars and eventually hit a tree at approximately 80 miles per hour, killing the driver, Guadalup Alberto.

Alberto’s accident was in 2008, and the case has already progressed into discovery. The NYT highlights a deposition from “a Toyota executive about how the company and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration agreed to categorize different accidents” when the agency looked at throttle issues in 2004.

The executive, the article said, did not provide details of high-speed incidents because federal regulators had not requested them.

“I recall them saying to us, Toyota, myself, that they were not interested in reports alleging uncontrolled acceleration that occurred for a long duration,” Toyota’s manager of technical and regulator affairs testified in the same case.

Yesterday we noted, as cited by the ABA Journal, that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has said no deaths have been reported from a stuck accelerator. How similar Alberto’s throttle system in her 2005 Camry was to those Toyotas now under recall for sticky pedals is a question for the experts. That, as well as the specific causes for each accident, how they were or should have been classified and when a recall should have happened will be fodder for all of these new lawsuits.

Cases like Alberto’s will provide some of the answers, but seem to raise just as many questions.

Read the NYT’s full report here.

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