Product Liability

Sudden acceleration cases filed against Toyota in California state courts get trial date

Litigation filed in California state courts over sudden unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles has been slated to begin January 1, 2013, starting with a high-profile case alleging the wrongful death of a California woman whose 2006 Camry crashed after it sped out of control.

In that case, plaintiff Peter Uno alleges that his wife Noriko Uno died in April 2008 after her Camry suddenly accelerated to speeds over 100 mph while she was traveling on an Upland, California highway. Mrs. Uno ultimately lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a telephone pole. Jury selection on this first bellwether case is scheduled to start November 1. A lawyer for Mr. Uno estimated the trial could take 40 days.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Anthony Mohr, who is overseeing about 100 lawsuits filed against Toyota in California state courts, selected three other lawsuits to be heard as bellwether cases, which will help determine how the rest of the litigation will proceed.

Should the Uno case settle before Oct. 1, the second bellwether involving sudden unintended acceleration in a 2008 Tundra would be moved up. The plaintiff in that case, Michael Houlf, a retired police officer, is suing Toyota for breach of contract under California’s lemon law, alleging Toyota made false and misleading statements about the safety of his vehicle and several other models. According to Mr. Houlf’s lawsuit, his truck suddenly surged forward in a post office parking lot, nearly running into the building and colliding with people in the area. Mr. Houlf alleges the truck shot forward even as he stepped on the brakes. He has not driven the Tundra since the incident occurred.

Mr. Houlf’s experience occurred despite the repairs made to his Tundra under Toyota’s sudden unintended acceleration recalls. He alleges the carmaker knew about the dangers and should have installed a brake override system as it did in the high-end vehicles affected by the recall. The trial in that case is expected to last about 15 days.

The third case in line was filed by Feras Al Jamal, who claims his 2005 Camry sped out of control near Riverside, California, causing him to crash into a wall and injuring his son, who was sitting in a car seat.

According to the National Law Journal, Judge Mohr “ordered that a case brought by Orange County, Calif., District Attorney Tony Rackauckas against Toyota will ‘run in the background’ as a bench trial during the bellwether trials. That case seeks civil penalties on behalf of California consumers.”

Just a few miles away, Judge James Selna will preside over multi-district litigation involving hundreds of cases filed against Toyota in federal courts starting February 19, 2013.


National Law Journal