US

Okla. jury: Toyota liable in acceleration crash

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Toyota Motor Corp. is liable for a 2007 crash that left one woman dead and another seriously injured after a Camry suddenly accelerated, an Oklahoma jury decided Thursday.

The jury awarded $1.5 million in monetary damages to Jean Bookout, the driver of the car who was injured in the crash, and $1.5 million to the family of Barbara Schwarz, 70, who died. It also decided Toyota acted with "reckless disregard" for the rights of others, a determination that sets up a second phase of the trial on punitive damages that is scheduled to begin Friday. After the verdict, District Judge Patricia Parrish ordered attorneys on both sides not to discuss the case publicly until after the punitive stage.

"Per the court's instructions, we cannot comment on the ruling pending the ongoing deliberations by the jury," Toyota said in a statement. Bookout, 82, was driving a 2005 Camry six years ago when it ran through an intersection near Eufaula and slammed into an embankment.

The attorneys for Bookout and Schwarz's family maintain the vehicle accelerated unexpectedly because of a defect in the car's electronic throttle-control system. Bookout's attorney said Toyota knew about the problems, but concealed that information from the public.

"We believe Toyota's conduct from the time the electronic throttle-control system was developed has been shameful," attorney Cole Portis told jurors. "It's a big deal, because if it doesn't work right, people get killed."

Attorneys for Toyota disputed those claims and blamed the crash on driver error. "Sometimes people make mistakes while driving their cars," attorney Randolph Bibb Jr. said. Bibb theorized that Bookout mistakenly pumped the gas pedal instead of the brake, and by the time she realized her mistake and pressed the brake, it was too late to avoid the crash.

Toyota already agreed to a more than $1 billion settlement in 2012 to resolve hundreds of lawsuits claiming economic losses Toyota owners suffered when the Japanese automaker recalled millions of vehicles because of sudden acceleration problems. But that settlement did not include those suing over wrongful death and injury, and hundreds more of those lawsuits remain.

Toyota has blamed drivers, stuck accelerators or floor mats that trapped the gas pedal for the sudden unintended acceleration claims that led to the recalls. In a separate case earlier this month, a jury in California found Toyota was not liable for the death of a woman who was killed when her 2006 Camry apparently accelerated and crashed despite her efforts to stop. The woman's family was seeking $20 million in damages.

A federal judge in Orange County, Calif., is dealing with wrongful death and economic loss lawsuits that have been consolidated. Federal lawsuits contend that Toyota's electronic throttle-control system was defective and caused vehicles to surge suddenly. Plaintiffs' attorneys have deposed Toyota employees, reviewed software code and pored over thousands of documents.

Toyota has denied the allegation, and neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nor NASA found evidence of electronic problems.

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