Toyota reached an agreement with Opal Gay Vance, after the 2010 Camry she was driving suddenly accelerated, crashed into a trailer, and injured her back and neck, according to her attorney. Though the Vance case was originally scheduled to go to trial on Jan. 21, as the next sudden-acceleration case Toyota was expected to face in the U.S.A., Toyota moved to keep the story under wraps by settling out of court.
Yesterday, Toyota opened talks to resolve several hundred sudden-acceleration cases in federal and state court in California. Recently, Toyota Motor Corp also settled a separate lawsuit filed in West Virginia.
All of this comes on the heels of similar actions in the last few years. Toyota has repeatedly moved to settle sudden-acceleration cases, so as to keep them out of court. The largest settlement was a $1.6 billion class action suit from motorists who claimed the sudden-acceleration issue had reduced the value of their Toyota and Lexus vehicles.
Toyota has also settled a number of personal injury and death cases, including a $10 million resolution to the surviving family of a California Highway Patrolman killed in a Lexus near San Diego in 2009, along with his family. The fiery crash was captured in chilling detail on a 911 recording.
It all goes back to to Jean Bookout and Barbara Schwarz. They were the sole occupants of a 2005 Camry that crashed in Eufaula, Okla., in September 2007. In October 2013, a verdict handed down required Toyota to pay a total of $3 million in compensatory damages to Jean Bookout and the family of the deceased passenger, Barbara Schwarz. This was a milestone Toyota had long dreaded.
The Japanese automaker, long renowned for high quality autos and exceptional consumer value, has continually denied allegations and has successfully defended itself in court in three prior trials.
But, the Bookout-Schwarz decision is the first time a jury agreed that faulty electronics involving an electronic throttle system could indeed have caused a Toyota vehicle to accelerate suddenly and uncommanded.
Toyota appears anxious to have this all resolved now. They usually prefer to either deny, or avoid comment. However, when pressed, their strategy is to have a spokesman confirm the verdicts, but then say the company cannot comment while a case is ongoing.
In any case, on Thursday, U.S. District Court judges in Santa Ana and in Los Angeles County Superior Courts issued orders to open intensive settlement processes between Toyota and nearly 300 plaintiffs in sudden-acceleration cases, some causing death.
Toyota is anxious to pursue what is known as a global settlement, dispensing with the majority of lawsuits it currently faces, and moving beyond this public image sore spot that has plagued the company for nearly seven years now.
Under the terms of this order, all cases consolidated in Santa Ana and Los Angeles are temporarily stayed. Toyota attempts negotiations with each plaintiff. If a settlement cannot be reached, the case moves to mediation. A last step would be a return to the trial calendar.
However, it is still far from over for Toyota, which faces hundreds of sudden-acceleration lawsuits that are strikingly similar. There is the trial coming up next for the Georgia woman who suddenly accelerated into a California schoolyard.
Another case coming up in Michigan involves 77-year old, Guadalupe Alberto, whose 2005 Camry crashed into a tree, and killed her in 2008.
After Toyota settles all the sudden-acceleration cases in W. Virginia and California, nobody knows how long it will take to complete this settlement process, however the plaintiffs’ attorneys say they are confident that most cases will be resolved out of court.
By Alex Durig