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Toyota loss in lawsuit triggers quick acceleration case settlement

LOS ANGELES – 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.

On Thursday, 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 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.

“While we strongly disagree with the verdict, we are satisfied that the parties reached a mutually acceptable agreement to settle this case,” Toyota spokeswoman Carly Schaffner said. “We remain committed to providing our customers with safe and reliable vehicles, and we will continue to defend our products vigorously at trial.”


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