Toyota's Jim Lentz Testifies in Unintended Acceleration Wrongful Death Suit

TTAC Staff
by TTAC Staff
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toyota s jim lentz testifies in unintended acceleration wrongful death suit

After losing a motion to prevent him from appearing, Toyota Motor Corporation’s CEO for North America, Jim Lentz took the witness stand in a lawsuit filed by the survivors of a woman who was killed when her Camry allegedly sped out of control and hit a tree after it was hit by another car, whose driver is a co-defendant in the case. One issue in the court case is why Toyota did not equip Noriko Uno’s car with a brake override system that automatically closes the throttle when the brakes are applied.

Bloomberg reports that Lentz answered questions posed by the plaintiffs’ attorney in regard to how the company marketed the system when it did start making it available. Toyota branded the system as “smart stop”, apparently rejecting “safe stop”, according to internal Toyota documents plaintiffs obtained as part of the discovery process.

Lentz said that the reason why the company chose “smart” instead of “safe” was to avoid promising more than they could deliver. “I made clear to the marketing department that it had to be something that didn’t overpromise,” Lentz said. “Safe stop or sure stop was overpromising because it wouldn’t necessarily stop the acceleration in all cases.”

The Uno case is the first of about 85 personal-injury and wrongful-death lawsuits filed against Toyota in California courts regarding supposed unintended acceleration. The company has already settled an economic loss class action suit at a cost estimated to be $1.63 billion. That suit was about the value of used Toyotas declining due to the massive recalls the company initiated to address the issue.

Among other actions in the recall, Toyota installed brake override system software on the recalled models and started equipping all of its new production cars with the override system. The plaintiffs pointed out that Toyota had started installing the system on some of its European modes in the early 2000s and questioned Lentz on why it was not featured on its U.S. models. Lentz said that he only knew of one European Toyota that featured a brake override.

Also testifying Tuesday was an expert witness who testified that Uno was hospitalized for vomiting blood and being dizzy and light-headed on two separate occasions before her fatal accident. Toyota argues that Uno’s cognitive abilities were impaired by her diabetes and liver conditions. Before she hit the tree, following the initial collision with another car, she drove the wrong way down a one-way street.

Toyota has said Uno’s diabetes and liver conditions impaired her cognitive abilities and caused her to drive down a one-way residential street into oncoming traffic after being hit by another vehicle.

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  • LeMansteve LeMansteve on Aug 29, 2013

    "Brake Override System" Aren't all vehicles designed so that the brakes will always out-torque the engine? Even if the throttle was stuck open, wouldn't full brake pressure slow the car to a stop? I guess Toyota is taking this one step further and actually reducing engine power in a stuck or heavily opened throttle situation.

    • See 1 previous
    • Spw Spw on Aug 29, 2013

      @bk_moto while you are correct in putting the car into neutral, tests have shown that car will stop almost the same whether you have gas pedal pressed or not... I think MT tested it with Camry. what happened here was woman pressing gas instead of brakes, not sure how could anything help her.

  • Lou_BC Lou_BC on Aug 30, 2013

    I suspect that in this case, the lady screwed up or her medical ailments were contributors. In the case of the CHP officer fatality, the floor mat did jam the pedal and the guy overheated the brakes trying to slow the car. The car had a push button on/off and apparently they tried that but the button had to be held down several seconds. No attempt was made to put the car into neutral. I live in a cold climate and have experienced frozen throttles. Knowing what to do should be somewhere in one's brain. Statistically, 1/3 of the motoring public should not have a driver's licence. Toyota engineering may have caused some deaths but how does one engineer for stupidity and ignorance? Statistics have shown that all brands have documented cases of unintended acceleration. Toyota just happened to be a scapegoat during a major downturn in the USA economy. Lets go after the Japs, they did bomb Pearl Harbor.

    • Sgeffe Sgeffe on Sep 01, 2013

      Have had a "throttle misapplication" happen if my sandal-soled flip-flops are loose on my feet. (Except when going to work, they're on my feet from March 1st through the first snow, provided there isn't snow on the ground! Hell, I'd wear 'em IN light snow, too!) Sometimes, when they've been loose, they would pivot on my feet, and I'd be hitting the brake, but the toe would be brushing the gas!! The very first time this happened (as I was waiting to turn out of a side street), I instinctively dropped the tranny into "Neutral" before even THINKING "WTF is going on?!," much less figuring out the problem!! If we only had people in this country who had a CLUE about driving! Even that cop who got killed in that Lexus should have had NO PROBLEM after dropping the car into Neutral. AFIK, no Lexi have the electronic shifters like the Prius does; B&B, correct me if I'm wrong! Yes, the engine may bounce off the rev-limiter, which may contribute to an "I'm not slowing down" feeling, particularly if the brakes are a smoking mess! But you should be able to get over, if traffic allows, and drive on the shoulder, sideswiping guardrails or the like as necessary in order to stop! It does beg the question: is there an emergency Neutral procedure on BMWs and other cars with e-shifters? Will a press of the "P" button at speed simply take the transmission out of gear, or is the button completely non-functional past a certain speed in order to prevent "transmissionus go-kaboomus?"

  • MaintenanceCosts So there is no Sonata trim without some type of Theta engine.It seems like they've been doing a bit better when attached to a hybrid system, so that's probably the one to get, but they're going to have to go several years without further engine troubles before I'd trust a H/K ICE product again.
  • Lou_BC Full sized sort of autonomous RC's. Cute.
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  • Drew8MR Interior is trivial now you can get repro everything in various levels of quality. Getting the top sorted will be a couple grand, but I'd drive it as it. I drove a $1500 67 GTO convertible for 20 years, not every old car needs to be like new.
  • John Not everyone pays that much for power. Mine is 10 cents per kw…..