A lawyer representing the family of a woman who died when her 2009 Toyota Camry sped out of control and sank into a California River hopes the case will be tried as a bellwether case ahead of about a hundred other sudden unintended acceleration lawsuits against Toyota pending litigation in California state courts.
The plaintiff’s lawyer believes his client’s case, filed April 18 in Los Angeles County Superior Court, closely parallels the high-profile case of Mark Saylor, a California Highway Patrol officer who was killed with his family in August 2009 after the Lexus he was driving suddenly sped out of control near San Diego, ending in a fiery high-speed crash. The horrific crash prompted a global recall of millions of Toyota and Lexus vehicles over the potential to accelerate without warning and elicited an apology from Toyota Motor Corporation CEO Akio Toyoda.
The new lawsuit details “a ride of terror” that Sadaf Chaudhary, 59, went on as she was driving her Camry to her job as a dishwasher at a Sacramento area casino. Mrs. Chaudhary called her daughter to tell her that the Camry was accelerating and its brakes weren’t working. Panicked and hysterical, she then called 911, often speaking in her native Punjabi language, telling a dispatcher that her car was in the river.
A translator was brought into the call and said that Mrs. Chaudhary was trapped inside the sinking car with all the windows rolled up. The graphic recording captured the sound of her pounding on the windows before the connection was lost.
“We feel very strong about the case,” The National Law Journal quoted the plaintiffs’ lawyer as saying. “We think it will be the type of case that will illuminate everything with Toyota and their electronic throttle control systems.”
Like the Saylor lawsuit, the Chaudhary case highlights frantic 911 calls made by the driver as her car sped out of control. On Mr. Saylor’s call, a family member is heard saying “We’re in trouble. There’s no brakes.” Minutes later, the call turned to panicked pleas for help and screams as the car careened off the highway. All four people – Mr. Saylor, his wife, daughter, and brother-in-law – were killed in the crash. A lawsuit filed by relatives of the family was settled out of court last year for $10 million.
Toyota and several affiliated companies face hundreds of personal-injury and wrongful-death lawsuits in the U.S. involving sudden-acceleration claims. The California cases are separate from the cases that have been filed in U.S. District Courts throughout the country. Those cases have been consolidated for multidistrict litigation (MDL) in Santa Ana, California, under Judge James Selna. Additional sudden-acceleration lawsuits are awaiting trial in New York and Texas.
Toyota recalled millions of vehicles for their potential to accelerate unintentionally, insisting the problems stemmed from faulty floor mats that could jam the gas pedal in open position and sticky throttle assemblies. But like many others familiar with Toyota’s sudden-acceleration problems the lawyer representing Mrs. Chaudhary’s family considers the floor-mat recall a “smokescreen” to draw attention away from the true problem: a defective electronic throttle system, faulty software code, and absence of a brake override system that could have prevented sudden-acceleration crashes like Mrs. Chaudhary’s.