By on August 9, 2013

Noriko-Uno-car-after-crash

The first wrongful death lawsuit concerning the sudden acceleration of Toyota cars to go to trial has started with opening arguments. According to Bloomberg, the lawyer for Noriko Uno’s family said that Toyota knew that their gas pedals could get stuck and that the company was liable for her death because Uno’s 2006 Camry did not have a brake override system. The Toyota that Uno, 66 at the time of her death, was hit by a car that ran a stop sign. Her Toyota subsequently accelerated down the wrong side of the road for 30 seconds before hitting a tree, causing her death.

Last month Toyota agree to settle, for $1.63 billion, an economic loss class action lawsuit filed by owners of Toyotas who claimed their vehicles’ value had depreciated after Toyota recalled over 10 million cars to address the unintended acceleration issue. While the car company has settled out of court with some claimants, the Uno case is the first to actually make it to a courtroom. About 85 personal injury and wrongful death suits have been consolidated in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Noriko Uno

Noriko Uno

The Uno family is seeking $20 million in damages, claiming that Toyota should have installed a brake override system that forces the engine’s throttle to return to the idle position when both the brake and gas pedals are depressed. When Uno’s car was manufactured, Toyota had already implemented brake overrides on models sold in Europe.

Toyota’s lawyers insist that Uno was at fault because she stepped on the gas, not brake, pedal and that a brake override system wouldn’t have prevented her death, the automaker claims, because she never tried to use her brake. In his opening statement, Toyota lawyer Vince Galvin said, “This is not a stuck-pedal case, it’s an alleged stuck foot case.” The plaintiffs allege that Uno’s right foot got stuck between the gas and the brake pedals, causing her to accelerate as she tried to brake with her left foot, a claim that Toyota says is not possible.

 

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48 Comments on “First Toyota Unintended Acceleration Wrongful Death Trial Begins...”


  • avatar
    NormSV650

    Doesn’t the crash data record vehicle status 30 seconds before the event?

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      Not all cars have this. I don’t know if Toyota does or not.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        If it didn’t have a data recorder, I don’t know how Toyota could claim: “that Uno was at fault because she stepped on the gas, not brake, pedal and that a brake override system wouldn’t have prevented her death, the automaker claims, because she never tried to use her brake.”

  • avatar

    Its obvious to me that this family wants to get Money at the death of the sibling, its unclear what caused the Vehicle to move in the first place, glad I am not a Judge in this case.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      It’ll probably be settled out of court and findings will never be known. Some more history:

      http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/02/what%E2%80%99s-wrong-with-toyota%E2%80%99s-black-boxes/?ModPagespeed=noscript

    • 0 avatar
      carlisimo

      I wouldn’t say it’s obvious. I can see how someone might honestly believe it’s Toyota’s fault.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      The loss of a loved one is traumatic, and I am sure the family has suffered a lot because of what happened.

      However, I find it hard to believe that this person’s life was worth $20M.

      • 0 avatar
        challenger2012

        At 66 years of age, $20M is way too much. I suspect she got hit, being an old women, panicked and stepped on the wrong pedal. Maybe she blacked out keeping the foot on the gas pedal. This is not Toyota’s fault. Just a bad break for one person.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          I agree! Nevertheless, Toyota will settle to reduce exposure that fuels the haters and in the process win new converts and influence old adversaries.

          It is up to the rest of us to run out and buy a new Toyota product to show our appreciation for all that Toyota has done for the global automotive industry and the American employees of Toyota who make Toyota cars for Americans right here in America.

          I am a 2008 convert to the Toyota brand and repeat Toyota buyer, and will continue to buy Toyota products until I have a bad ownership experience with them at which time I will re-assess my position.

          • 0 avatar
            challenger2012

            @High I have never been a slave to any ideology, and being a slave to Toyota should not be your life’s ambition. I support Toyota here because it is the right call.

            You became a convert in 2008. I hope it is not the Corolla that won you over, for it is not just, “so yesterday”, but rather so 1980 with a weak 4 banger and an out of date 4 speed automatic. And as for the Corolla’s looks, I don’t know if I should laugh or cry?

            I think you missed the quality bus for Toyota by 20 years. I don’t know if they have fallen or the competition has gotten so much better. But Toyota is not the only name in town when it comes to quality, and it comes to looks, they have lost the race, many times.

            I own a 2012 Hemi RT Challenger. I couldn’t care less about CR had to say about it. I get compliments all the time on it. No problems with ownership. Would I buy it again? In a New York minute

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            challenger2012, yeah, I’m not going to rehash my previous experiences of the past 67 years of my life because I don’t want to p!ss off the regular commenters who have read my comments over the years past.

            My first exposure to Toyota was a 2008 Japan-built Highlander Limited that has been incredibly reliable and today serves as the daily driver for my 16-year old grand daughter. Almost 90K and still no problems!

            My short experience with the Toyota philosophy of building vehicles moved me to forsake all other trucks in favor of a 2011 Tundra 5.7, although I owned both a Silverado and an F150 at the time of that purchase. I’ve been there, done that and I’m not going back!

            Many before me concluded that when Toyota started building them in America the bottom dropped out of the quality because of de-contenting and American-supplier shortcuts like bad welds, bad gas pedals, rusting frames. They were right but I’m still happy with my 2011 Tundra, so far. I live in the desert. What’s rust?

            When it came time to replace my wife’s Highlander, however, she fell in love with a 2012 Grand Cherokee Overland Summit with the V6. So far it appears to be holding up well. At least as good as our 2008 Highlander, so far.

            “I support Toyota here because it is the right call.”

            And I agree. I have been supporting Toyota ever since the fatal accident of the California Policeman killed on I-15 when his Toyota product accelerated because of the wrong installed floormats that obstructed the free movement of the gas pedal. Not his fault.

            That was spurious lawsuit not supported by facts. Yet, Toyota settled to preserve their good reputation in the industry. You know, I respect that immensely!

            That said, every time Toyota settles to preserve their image, it means that they’ll jack up the price of all their Toyota products across the board to make up for it. Somebody has to pay for it. It’s us Toyota buyers!

            When it comes time to buy a new truck I will buy a 2015 Tundra to show my support of Toyota and its fine products, because I believe in them and what they have done for the global auto industry and for America!

            If ever Toyota will be forced by the EPA and/or CAFE mandates to drop the 5.7 I will begrudgingly buy a 3/4-ton Ford with the biggest gasoline V8 available that year because that is my concept of pickup trucks.

            The bottom line driving our individual purchases is what works for us.

            I don’t believe in bailouts, handouts and nationalization so GM is automatically eliminated from my shopping list.

            Now that Chrysler is owned by Fiat, I view them as no different than Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Hyundai, Subaru, Mercedes, BMW et al; as foreign automakers providing jobs to Americans, building cars for Americans right here in America. That is a good thing.

            Chrysler benefits from what Daimler gave them in the exquisite engineering and styling of the 300, Grand Cherokee and RAM truck. Such finesse was bound to rub off on other Chrysler products.

            Walter Chrysler would be proud! Chrysler may no longer be an American company but his vision and spirit live on in Auburn Hills.

          • 0 avatar
            NormSV650

            HDC, I sense a change in tone like the thought of jumping off the Toyota bandwagon could be in the future, but not a thought at the moment.

            Who ever you sink your heels into next will have an ardent backer. Drive them all before you jump Toyota ship.

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    So she was in a car that was T-boned by a stop sign runner. Her car then accelerated down the street and killed her when she hit the tree. Is that right? Not sure how that is Toyota’s fault at that point. She may have had more to worry about before the car took off down the street.
    It’s tragic either way. Not sure about if it is an UA event.

  • avatar
    ExPatBrit

    Sounds like the guy who ran the stop sign was at fault, but maybe no insurance or just poor coverage.

    So a choice of suing the tree or Toyota.

    Pretty sad anyways.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      Considering that they are asking for $20M, Toyota is the only one with pockets that deep. That amount could never be extracted from the other driver or his insurance company.

      • 0 avatar
        WheelMcCoy

        >> Considering that they are asking for $20M …

        Should the plaintiff win, the award, in most cases, is reduced by the judge. The lawyers are asking high, but expecting something less.

        • 0 avatar
          redav

          Asking high, yes. I was sued in college, and he was also asking a ridiculously high amount: $55k.

          Asking for double what is reasonable is one thing; asking for 100x what is reasonable is another.

  • avatar

    I know plenty of guys who own Scion FR-S who wish their car could unintentionally accelerate.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    It’s so tempting to speculate on something like this. The court has more information than we do so I will wait for the outcome. It sounds like an out of court settlement has already been tried so maybe we will get one this time.
    Having said that I cannot resist some speculation. I believe that post crash there is too many things going on beyond control to lay any blame. This feels to me like a tragic accident. But, let the courts figure this one out.

  • avatar

    If Toyota loses this case it will be from political spite not a design defect. This is a simple case of brake pedal misapplication. Toyota and all the other manufacturers have known for years that the historical placement of the brake pedal next to the gas pedal is not the ultimate design given that when peoples sensory preception is temporarily confused as when you’re at a stop and you hit the brake because you are moving backward when you then realise it is the car beside you moving forward. It happens all the time and the profile is the same, mostly older people, mostly women, always an automatic equipped transmission and ususally from a stop like a parking situation or as in this case a stop sign. Toyota would never blame the customer at the time for fear of losing sales like Audi when they quickly blamed the drivers during the Audi 5000 event in 1986. Toyota shouldn’t have to pay the price for a design everyone has used but one of the manufacturers should start moving the pedals around. It never happens in manual transmission cars so seperate the pedals or add a third – do something otherwise this problem will never end. Given the graying population I’d predict that these type of accidents will start to skyrocket. Remember the last nightly news story of grandma driving through the front door of the 711/Bank/store? Keep watching they’ll make a reality TV show out of it.

    • 0 avatar
      ihatetrees

      +1.
      Although, in this case, the Toyota driver had just been t-boned. Anyone immediately after such an accident could have made a driving error.

      It’d be interesting to know what happened to the driver who ran the stop sign (other than the obligatory ~$100 fine). Most of the (degenerate, dinosaur) media seem much more fascinated by the diabolical corporation called Toyota than the POS who ran the stop sign.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    Toyota eft out secretive data from printouts of EDRs:

    http://m.autoblog.com/2010/03/05/report-toyota-secretive-about-black-box-data/

    • 0 avatar

      Nothing new in that story from AP – all automakers have given limited data on how to read and whats in their respective EDR’s. Since EDR’s weren’t mandatory the OE’s where hesitent to let slip what their recorder did or didn’t do.

  • avatar
    poltergeist

    According to the newspaper article I read about this case, this woman was diabetic and prone to “hypoglycemic episodes”. Toyota is contending that that is the cause of her erratic behavior after the initial accident. She apparently turned into oncoming traffic and went the wrong way down the street before she crashed into the tree. Seems to me the ambulance chaser lawyers showed up at the scene, saw it was a Toyota and saw dollar signs.

    Using the plantiff’s lawyer’s logic, one could buy a pre-airbag car, die in a major front-ender then their family could sue the manufacturer because the car didn’t have airbags!!!

  • avatar
    GoCougs

    Glad to see Toyota is fighting this. UA in all cases has been shown to be driver error.

  • avatar
    JuniperBug

    I’m going to leave this pertinent Car and Driver article:
    http://www.caranddriver.com/features/how-to-deal-with-unintended-acceleration

    Cliff’s Notes: when trying to brake from 70 MPH, having the throttle fully open on a 268 hp V-6 Camry resulted in a stopping distance only 16′ longer than if the throttle was completely closed.

    Folks, the cars stop – and rather quickly – regardless of what the throttle is doing, as long as you HIT THE BRAKES. This ignores other obvious solutions like putting the car in neutral or shutting off the ignition. Do you want to tell me that Toyota is guilty of wrongful deaths when there are no less than 3 intuitive ways to stop the car from accelerating at any given time?

    This is nothing but a case of underqualified – and/or distracted – drivers acting incompetently, and trying to shift the blame to someone with deep pockets. Maybe we should sue the government for letting morons have drivers’ licenses.

    • 0 avatar
      mik101

      I agree completely. It seems to me that not many folks have tried to drive a vehicle with one or more stuck calipers. Especially when it’s a drive wheel.

    • 0 avatar
      AJ

      Well said.

      Years ago I had an old car that had the cable from the gas peddle stick. Simply turning the car off stopped the acceleration. Amazing as it was…

      • 0 avatar
        wumpus

        My old car loses power steering and brakes when turned off. Luckily, it is a manual and can easily drop in into neutral (unlike a Prius). I have no idea if a prius has electric steering or what happens when you turn such a car off with two electric motors and an engine permenatly attached to the wheels, I sure bad things happen to the controls (likely similar to jamming on the brakes only on the front wheels).

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      Stop trying to confuse the legal system with facts!

      :)

  • avatar
    White Shadow

    This is a poorly written article and it was difficult to read and comprehend because of the way it was written. Does TTAC have an editor who actually reads these articles before they are posted on the site?

  • avatar
    JuniperBug

    There was no element of this article that I found difficult to read or comprehend, nor did I notice any editing mistakes, even upon rereading it to specifically look for them. Care to elaborate on what you found so terrible about it?

    • 0 avatar
      White Shadow

      Sure, since you asked, I’ll copy & paste a few gems that wouldn’t get past a drunken sixth grade English teacher:

      “The Toyota that Uno, 66 at the time of her death, was hit by a car that ran a stop sign.”

      “Toyota’s lawyers insist that Uno was at fault because she stepped on the gas, not brake, pedal and that a brake override system wouldn’t have prevented her death…”

      “Last month Toyota agree to settle, for $1.63 billion, an economic loss class action lawsuit filed by owners of Toyotas who claimed their vehicles’ value had depreciated after Toyota recalled over 10 million cars to address the unintended acceleration issue.”

      Now if you can’t recognize the problems with any/all of the above quotes, I can certainly understand why you’d think the article was easy to read and entirely understandable.

      • 0 avatar
        WheelMcCoy

        I was going to let it slide, but White Shadow makes a valid point. I want TTAC to be successful and good editing would set it apart from other auto-sites. If this were breaking news, I’d forgive some sloppiness, but this story is simply “braking” news.

      • 0 avatar
        wumpus

        In all the “press the correct pedal, stupid!” posts, I should point out that the lawsuit over “economic loss” was due to real damages over Toyota bungling the PR. Not that the toyota owners will see a cent of the actual damages.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Toyota will only fight the cases in court that are, without a doubt, obvious driver error. And of course show up with EDR data to prove their innocence.

    When there’s any kind of doubt, like witnesses seeing brake lights before the crash or overheated brake rotors, etc, Toyota has claimed the EDR data is “unreliable”, “unscientific”, “unreadable” or “lost”. Toyota still controls the EDR scanners. Then plaintiffs have no choice but to take the settlement.

  • avatar
    mkirk

    I am confused on the issue of the EDR. The EDR is part of the car, isn’t it? So the car belongs to the owner. When it gets totaled it may pass to the insurance company. If there is an investigation then the Cops would have it. So how does the manufacturer have it? If I had to guess I would say that it is because the protocols are proprietary and they are the only ones that can read them. So if these are going to be admissible as evidence in a legal proceeding shouldn’t there be something more common? And what are the penalties if following a wreck I rip the EDR out and chunk it into a sewer? I figure my insurance company might have something to say, but then again it isn’t there property until they settle and cut me the check for it and I am not keen on driving around with a recorder that is only going to be readable in the event that I screw up and wont bother to record anything that might implicate someone else. So I am confused.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      The car’s Registered Owners own the EDRs and control who can touch them. However, Toyota owns the EDR ‘scanners’ for the cars in question and controls who can use them, meaning nobody except trained Toyota personnel. The court can order Toyota to scan an EDR, but Toyota will claim its stored data is unreliable, experimental and therefor inadmissible. And what if the Toyota tech ‘accidentally’ erases its memory?

      This might have changed on current cars and their EDR scanners may be available to anyone, but the EDRs (and their scanners) were not mandated equipment at the time. And the scanners for those years of Toyotas are still not available to the public, police or private investigators.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        That’s exactly right! Although we may own our cars outright, there are still many devices and circuitry that we as owners cannot decipher, decode, reset or alter.

        More worrisome is that with systems like OnStar et al, the vehicle (and the operator/driver) is monitored at all times the vehicle is in use, even if you do not subscribe to said service.

        The implications for misuse of this tracking and monitoring data is mind-boggling, yet the owner cannot erase, alter or read the system data without the factory algorithm.

        This is separate and away from the OBDII data which is used for vehicle diagnostics.

        Before very long, ALL vehicles will have the dreaded “black box” on board because it allows investigators to reconstruct exactly what happened leading up to an incident of any kind, down to the millisecond.

      • 0 avatar
        doctor olds

        DenverMike- Good points, and “SUV” is a mythical phenomenon, btw!

        I once got a request from an Alaska Sheriff to read such data from a vehicle involved in a fatal crash. I had to track down how to get the data for him and was really surprised that we flew a technician to Alaska to pull it. Even though there was no allegation of a product defect, we did it to support the police investigation. They thought the driver had been going way too fast on a curve, if I recall correctly. We had to get the vehicle owner’s approval, and I never learned the facts to protect privacy.

        It should be clear I am no Toyota fan, but I have always come to their defense on this topic. I have a long history in dealing with government, being rushed to Powertrain Engineering in 1988 to investigate and resolve another false allegation regarding a completely innocuous Oldsmobile cruise control servo fault that, at worst, could elevate the hot idle from 450 RPM to maybe 600RPM or so !
        The guy who bought my house when I transferred coincidentally had the fault in a Buick B wagon. A plastic grommet could fall out of place and act as a shim to hold the throttle open very slightly above the idle position, dependent on how the cruise servo link adjustment, it could have absolutely zero effect. He was completely unaware of the failure and never would have noticed it. Still, NHTSA pushed us to release a Safety recall to install a different style grommet and retainer clip on 1.3million cars! They were scrambling to find SUV after the Audi fiasco.

        “Sudden Unintended Acceleration” is a fiction that media and NHTSA have tried to pin on car makers for years, never with any merit. It is always pedal misapplication. Always!

        What they did to Audi years ago was a crime, also. The lies presented on television with tricked cars to make the tires smoke on acceleration just about drove them out of the country. NHTSA would not even use the simple term, “driver error” insisting instead that reality be obscured with the label, “pedal misapplication”, with not so much as an apology to Audi.
        @HDC- My right wing friends made much ado about nothing wrt On-star collecting data. They spun GM’s interest in simply understanding macro information like driving patterns. mileage accumulation an usage schedules of the whole fleet into an invasion of individual privacy.

        On the other hand, the technology does open the door to abuse, even though controls are in place to protect privacy. The emissions agencies want you car to notify them if the Service Engine Soon Light comes on. So far, carmaker have fought that OBD III proposal off. With the BHO admin, one has to wonder how long they will be able to do so.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          @doc olds – If Sudden Unintended Acceleration has been caused by computer glitch/fault/error, it can never be proven in that respect. That’s what I understand about the what data/history computers will store, like past computer faults/errors.

          Except EDRs will store driver inputs history, or lack of. EDRs can prove/disprove SUA and yes it does exist, even it’s no fault of the on board circuitry/software/hardware.

          We know that a few things other than a misplaced pedal application (or driver error) can cause, and have caused SUA. Linkages, butterflies or pedals can get stuck or the pedal simply trapped by the floor mat. That’s when an OEM or dealer can be found liable and EDR info/data download useful.

          All of this is a reminder that we all need to be more familiar with the controls of the cars we drive. Even if a loaner car or rental. Most drivers I’ve questioned are unaware how easy it is to bump a shifter into Neutral. They’re afraid of putting it into Reverse or “flipping”. Crazy is right. And I’d say it’s much better to “flip” at a good speed than crash (and flip) at 120+ MPH.

          Never mind simply turning the thing OFF. Oh yeah, they think the steering will Lock up if they turn it OFF.

          These are the things we should learn from all these sad cases.

          • 0 avatar
            doctor olds

            @DenverMike- I am familiar with the argument about “computer glitches” as a cause, but discount to approximately zero probability. This is not just a hip shot.
            As a matter of fact,I studied microprocessors, controller software and calibration for my work, which ranged from developing service diagnostics, communicating data stream information to Scan tool makers and, for many years, monitoring product performance in consumer’s hands in these areas. Earlier in my career, I investigated a number of SUA allegations as well.

            No doubt, you touch on things that can cause a throttle to stick open, or fail to return to idle, but that is NOT SUA.

            SUA means the vehicle spontaneously, without driver input, moves the throttle wide open. There is no case in history for any car maker of that actually being caused by anything other than pedal misapplication.

            Misinformation abounds. Drilling holes between hydraulic passages inside transmissions (a la early the Audi “hit job”) or connecting wires to create circuits that can’t actually exist in any real world failure mode, as was hypothesized in the recent Toyota case are red herrings. The responsible Engineers who design such systems understand all of these details in microscopic detail with profound knowledge and with default responses to assure they are not possible.

            Massive resources were focused on Toyota with the goal being to prove the “glitch” theory and came up completely empty, again with every NHTSA investigation ever.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            I remember the concerted efforts by the DOT and the US Congress to discredit Toyota and its products, and Ray LaHood’s proclamation, “We’re not done with Toyota”.

            All for naught, because it was all based on lies and deceit.

            And then there were the efforts of the lying Press to show how Toyota cars could ‘run’ away, in staged events that were repeats of the same lies from decades ago.

            As a recent (2008) convert to Toyota, I would much rather put my money on a Toyota-engineered product.

            The case in discussion is about a woman who got hit and lost control of her car. There are numerous ways to lose control of one’s car, even while conscious. Like by stepping on the gas pedal instead of the brake. Obviously, she did not have the presence of mind to put the transmission in neutral, or may have been semi-conscious or unconscious.

            In spite of all this, Toyota will settle and make her survivors and beneficiaries instant millionaires, (not to mention her lawyers) and we, the buying public will pay the increased prices of future Toyota products.

            Only in America! Money for nuttin’. Foodstamps and cellphones for free.

          • 0 avatar
            mike978

            Do you think any of the recalls were justified? Do you think the State Highway patrolman and his family who died in a Lexus due to a incorrectly positioned floormat are at fault? Never heard of a floormat from another company causing a fatal accident.
            You have a limited imagination if you think the US is alone or even leading in giving free “stuff” to citizens (who may pay other taxes than just income tax) – look at Canada or any European country.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            @Doc olds – I’m not questioning whether the ‘glitches’ theory is a hoax or a witch hunt, but the EDR can tell us if there was zero application of the gas pedal while the brakes were full depressed. Otherwise, there’s no reason for Toyota to suppress or hold back evidence. Not that any car can accelerate on its own, but a stuck throttle component can hold at WOT just he same. And at no fault of the driver.

          • 0 avatar
            doctor olds

            @DenveMike- Part of the problem in the discussion is the meaning of SUA.

            No doubt, a throttle sticking is unquestionably a non-compliance- Motor Vehice Safety Standards (MVSS)- require the throttle to return to idle in a very short time (I can’t remember exactly, but in the sub 1 second range, or so as I recall.) That makes it a “Safety Recall”, whether it really can or is causing incidents.

            Plenty of failures can necessitate Safety Recalls, whether due to simple non-compliance with a standard, or because they present an “un-reasonable risk to safety”, a legal idea that also considers failure rate and circumstances under which the issue occurs.

            SUA is a very specific kind of failure mode, not a throttle sticking, or pedal being trapped by a floor mat. SUA has yet to be found in any product and NHTSA has been trying to find this elusive, mythical creature for many decades without success. That is just a fact.

  • avatar
    Robert Fahey

    Post-accident adrenaline ruins your judgment, yet you’re operating heavy machinery at the time. Ugly irony.


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