Jury awards US$3 million to victims of crash in which Toyota Camry accelerated suddenly

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 October, 2013, 3:47pm
UPDATED : Friday, 08 May, 2015, 4:41pm

Toyota Motor is liable for a 2007 crash that left one woman dead and another seriously injured after a Camry suddenly accelerated, a jury in Oklahoma decided on Thursday.

The jury awarded US$1.5 million in monetary damages to Jean Bookout, the driver of the car who was injured in the crash, and US$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 on Friday.

After the verdict, District Judge Patricia Parrish ordered lawyers on both sides not to discuss the case publicly until after the punitive stage.

Bookout, 82, was driving a 2005 Camry six years ago when it ran through an intersection near Eufaula and slammed into an embankment.

The lawyers 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 lawyer said Toyota knew about the problems, but concealed that information from the public.

It’s a big deal, because if it doesn’t work right, people get killed
Lawyer Cole Portis

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

Lawyers for Toyota disputed those claims and blamed the crash on driver error.

“Sometimes people make mistakes while driving their cars,” Randolph Bibb Jnr said.

Toyota agreed to a more than US$1 billion settlement last year to resolve hundreds of lawsuits claiming economic losses Toyota owners suffered when the Japanese carmaker 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.