Toyota to face U.S. trial over vehicle acceleration

Reuters

By Jessica Dye

Oct 8 (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp must face atrial over claims that it failed to warn the public about designdefects that caused certain vehicles to accelerateunintentionally, a federal judge in California has ruled.

U.S. District Judge James Selna in the Central District ofCalifornia on Monday denied Toyota's motion to dismissdefective-design and failure-to-warn claims brought against itby the estate of Ida St. John, who said in 2009 that her 2005Camry sped out of control and hit a school building. She diedafter giving that testimony, but the lawsuit does not claim thather death was caused by the crash.

The judge did grant the Japanese automaker's motion todismiss manufacturing defect and negligence claims.

St. John testified that her Camry accelerated even thoughshe did not press the pedal. The trial, slated to begin Nov. 5,will be one of the first of the many federal lawsuits focusingon the Toyota acceleration issues that prompted the automaker torecall millions of vehicles beginning in 2009.

The first federal sudden-acceleration case to go to trialended with a win for Toyota in 2011, in a lawsuit brought by adoctor who worked in Brooklyn.

A spokeswoman for Toyota, Amanda Rice, said in a statementon Tuesday that St. John failed to prove the vehicle wasdefective and that the company is "confident the evidence attrial will confirm that Toyota drivers can depend on theirvehicles to provide safe, reliable transportation."

A lawyer for the St. John estate, Todd Walburg, said in astatement, "It's time for a jury to hear about the defects thatwe've been studying over the past three years."

Since the recall, more than 500 individual and 200 proposedclass-action lawsuits have been filed against Toyota in U.S.federal and state courts, according to a regulatory filing fromthe Japanese automaker.

Toyota said the 2005 Camry was not subject to accelerationrelated recalls.

In her lawsuit, St. John said Toyota received thousands ofcomplaints about unintentional acceleration in vehicles equippedwith electronic throttle control systems, which connect theaccelerator to the engine. The company failed to warn customers,she alleged.

Toyota asked the judge to dismiss the case, saying thecollision could have been caused by driving errors andcontending that St. John did not demonstrate a connection withalleged defect or system failure in the vehicle.

But the judge on Monday said that testimony St. Johnpreviously gave, coupled with expert evidence submitted by theplaintiffs, "supports inferences from which a reasonable jurycould conclude that the Camry continued to accelerate and failedto slow or stop despite her application of the brakes."

Selna also presided over a separate group of lawsuits overalleged economic losses stemming from acceleration issues. Hesigned off in July on a settlement valued at $1.6 billion toresolve those claims, which did not include personal injury orwrongful death lawsuits.

In a separate case, jurors in California state court aredeliberating in the first sudden-acceleration case to be triedthere, involving the death of a woman after her 2006 Camrycrashed into a tree.

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