By Adam Rubenfire, Crain News Service
LOS ANGELES (July 23, 2013) — Jury selection began July 22 in a Los Angeles trial stemming from a lawsuit alleging that Toyota Motor Corp. should be held responsible for unintended acceleration in a woman's 2006 Camry.
The suit, the first bellwether case to go to trial, could set a precedent for a series of cases over alleged sudden acceleration by the auto maker's vehicles.
Noriko Uno was killed in August 2009 after her Camry suddenly accelerated to 100 mph, causing her to veer into the median and crash into a telephone pole and a tree, according to an Associated Press story. Her family contends that the crash was not a result of driver error, and that it could have been prevented by better safety equipment.
The Uno trial is expected to question why Toyota's vehicles lacked a brake-override system that prevents acceleration if the brake and accelerator pedals are pressed at the same time, according to the AP. Toyota, as part of a broader legal settlement in federal court, has agreed to install such brake-override systems.
After widespread claims of unintended acceleration, Toyota recalled more than 10 million vehicles worldwide in 2009 and 2010 and said it would fix sticky pedals that were getting trapped under floor mats. Last week, Toyota won tentative final approval of an agreement to pay $1.63 billion to U.S. consumers who claimed that their vehicles' value declined as a result of the recalls.
The settlement includes $757 million in cash payments, including $227 million in attorneys' fees and costs, and $875 million in non-monetary benefits, including the free installation of brake-override systems for eligible vehicles, according to the plaintiff lawyers' April 23 request for final approval.
In January, Toyota settled the first bellwether case brought by the families of Paul Van Alfen and Charlene Lloyd, who were riding in a 2008 Camry that struck a rock wall after failing to stop. Both parties refused to disclose the terms of the agreement.
The Uno trial is expected to last two months, according to the AP.
Bloomberg contributed to this report, which appeared on the website of Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.