Toyota has spent well more than $1 billion settling lawsuits involving unintended acceleration, but the world’s largest automaker still faces hundreds of other cases awaiting trial.
First up is a suit filed by the heirs of Noriko Uno, a 66-year-old bookkeeper who was killed when her Toyota Camry unexpectedly sped to 100 mph on a city street in Upland, Calif., in 2009.
Jury selection started Monday in the Los Angeles County Superior Court lawsuit that argues Toyota Motor Corp. should have had a fail-safe system that enables the brakes to override the accelerator. A judge has selected the case as a bellwether case that will help set the direction for hundreds of similar lawsuits against the automaker.
Opening arguments in the suit are expected to start next week, and the trial could last well into October, according to attorneys.
“Lots of people are tracking these cases,” said Aaron Jacoby, a Los Angeles attorney who heads the automotive industry group at the Arent Fox law firm. “These sorts of cases build precedent.”
There is also still a chance the lawsuit won’t reach a jury.
“There will be some form of a settlement,” predicted Thilo Koslowski, an analyst at Gartner Inc. “For Toyota, it might be an investment to not have this flare up into something bigger.”
Toyota has settled numerous other sudden acceleration cases, including a pair of suits in Michigan in 2011 just days away from trial. The automaker settled the most notorious acceleration case – involving a California highway patrolman who was killed along with his family – for $10 million in late 2010. In late December and early January, the automaker settled the first two bellwether cases scheduled for trial.
It also settled a class-action suit filed by people contending that defects hurt the value of their cars, agreeing to pay as much as $1.6 billion. That settlement was finalized by a federal judge in Orange County last week.
Toyota has brought one case to verdict, involving a Scion tC in New York in 2011. The automaker won, but plaintiffs’ lawyers in other suits say the case was weak and involved a different set of facts than most sudden acceleration allegations.