Feb 13 A Houston trial lawyer who won a
multi-million dollar verdict against Merck & Co over its Vioxx
painkiller has been tapped to lead the first personal injury
case in nationwide litigation against Toyota Motor Corp
for the unintended acceleration of its vehicles.
Mark Lanier, 52, was selected last week by Leiff Cabraser
Heimann & Bernstein and Conley Griggs Partin, the lead
plaintiffs firms in the personal injury case, to represent the
estate of Ida St. John, who crashed her Camry into a school
gymnasium and broke her vertebrae in 2009.
The multidistrict litigation against the Japanese car giant
consolidates roughly 155 personal injury or wrongful death
lawsuits before a federal judge in California.
St. John's is the first of the personal injury and wrongful
death lawsuits expected to go to trial in November and could
determine the fate of the other cases before Judge James Selna,
who is overseeing the cases.
In December, Toyota agreed to pay roughly $1.1 billion to
settle related economic damage claims, but the agreement left
the personal injury and wrongful death cases unresolved.
St. John claimed in 2010 that her car abruptly accelerated
while she turned into an elementary school driveway in Columbus,
Georgia. She said she could not stop the vehicle despite
stepping on the brakes.
St. John blamed "defective" Toyota equipment, including a
sticky accelerator pedal, for the mishap, and sought damages of
at least $75,000 before she died last summer.
Toyota, which chose to try the St. John case first, said in
court records that St. John, who was 84 years old at the time of
the accident, may have been negligent and that Toyota was in no
Lanier said in an interview that he plans to show that
defective Toyota equipment caused the accident and that if
Toyota had installed a brake override system in St. John's
vehicle, the crash could have been prevented. Lanier said it is
unlikely St. John confused the gas and brake pedals because she
had not done so in her 60-year driving history.
"All I'm thinking about is how to beat Toyota into
submission," Lanier said.
A Toyota spokesman said a brake override system, which
reduces engine power when the brake and accelerator pedals are
pressed simultaneously, "is by no means a universal remedy for
unintended acceleration, including in cases of pedal
Cale Conley, a lawyer with Conley Griggs, said he and Lanier
also intend to pursue wrongful death claims against Toyota
because St. John's health deteriorated after the crash.
Those claims, without sufficient medical evidence, could be
difficult to prove, said Houston trial lawyer Lee Kaplan, who is
not involved in the litigation. Kaplan noted that St. John's age
would likely be brought into question.
Lanier is known for securing the first guilty verdict
against drug company Merck in litigation that claimed
the arthritis drug Vioxx caused heart problems.
Lanier's client was a Texas woman who claimed her husband
died after taking Vioxx. Lanier won a $253 million jury verdict
in Texas District Court, which led to Merck's eventual $4.85
billion settlement with other litigants.