Less than two months after an Oklahoma jury found that Toyota had acted with ”reckless disregard” in its response to two women injured in a sudden, unintended acceleration crash, the Japanese auto maker has decided to enter an intensive settlement process.
The decision to negotiate a settlement hasn’t surprised many following Toyota’s sudden-acceleration saga. Even though it appeared the carmaker had gained some momentum fighting earlier lawsuits brought by crash victims and their families — as well as vehicle owners suffering monetary losses — the jury’s verdict in Oklahoma likely derailed Toyota’s hopes for prevailing over some 300 additional lawsuits it still faces.
Beasley Allen founding shareholder Jere Beasley, who was one of the lead attorneys who represented the Oklahoma plaintiffs, told the New York Times that after the Oklahoma verdict, the burden of proof now falls on Toyota. Because of that decision, Toyota might have a difficult time defending its computer systems and persuading juries that they or some other defect were not to blame for sudden-acceleration incidents.
“I am not surprised that Toyota wants to resolve these cases,” Mr. Beasley told the New York Times. “There will be other large verdicts unless Toyota resolves these cases.”
The Oklahoma jury ordered Toyota to pay $3 million to the families of Barbara Schwarz, who was killed in the horrific 2007 crash, and Jean Bookout, the driver, who survived with debilitating injuries. The women were riding in Ms. Bookout’s 2005 Camry when it suddenly surged out of control and crashed into an embankment.
Cole Portis, another Beasley Allen shareholder who represented the plaintiffs in the Oklahoma case, told the Los Angeles Times that the evidence demonstrating Toyota to be at fault “was very, very strong.”
“Defending the computer system on those cars was going to be very hard to do. There were going to be more big verdicts.”
Lawsuits filed in U.S. courts pending against Toyota have been consolidated for multidistrict litigation under Judge James Selna in Santa Ana. Most cases filed in state courts have been combined in Los Angeles County Superior Court. A handful of other cases that aren’t part of the consolidated litigation will be tried separately, although it is likely Toyota will try to settle those cases as well.