Oklahoma jury considers Toyota acceleration case

Okla. jury deciding whether death, injury resulted from electronics defect in Toyota vehicle

Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A defect in the computer electronics system of a 2005 Toyota Camry caused the vehicle to accelerate unexpectedly, leading to an accident in Oklahoma that killed one woman and seriously injured another, an attorney argued Thursday.

The product liability case against Toyota Motor Corp. was submitted to the jury for consideration Thursday after attorneys for the plaintiffs and carmaker delivered closing arguments.

Jean Bookout, then 76, was driving the Camry in 2007 when it ran through an intersection near Eufaula and slammed into an embankment. Bookout was injured and 70-year-old passenger Barbara Schwarz was killed.

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."

But attorneys for Toyota maintain there was no evidence presented during the nearly three-week trial that suggested there was a problem with the vehicle's computer system. Instead, Toyota's lawyers said the accident likely resulted from driver error.

"Sometimes people make mistakes while driving their cars," Randolph Bibb, Jr. said. "And on Sept. 20, 2007, at the end of a long day, driving on an unfamiliar road, 76-year-old Jean Bookout made mistakes in the operation of her car."

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.

He said there is no evidence of a software failure in the electronic throttle-control system, even after a team of more than 30 engineers with two federal agencies conducted numerous tests on the system.

"That evidence simply doesn't exist," Bibb said. He also discounted the idea that Toyota knew about the problems and concealed those from the public as "outlandish."

Portis asked jurors to consider $3 million to $6 million in monetary damages for Bookout and $5 million to $8 million in damages for Schwarz's family. If the jury determines punitive damages should be awarded, a separate stage of the trial will be conducted.

The company recalled millions of vehicles worldwide after drivers reported some Toyota vehicles were surging unexpectedly. It already has agreed to pay $1 billion in lawsuits filed in federal courts.

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Sean Murphy can be reached at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy

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