Toyota found liable in U.S. for fatal crash caused by unintended acceleration

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp 7203.T has been found liable in an unintended acceleration lawsuit in the U.S., one of the first such cases to go to trial since the Japanese carmaker began recalling millions of vehicles in 2009 over acceleration issues.

A visitor walking past cars is reflected on a Toyota car at the company's showroom in Tokyo February 5, 2013. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

A jury in Oklahoma on Thursday awarded $3 million in compensatory damages to Jean Bookout, a driver injured in a 2007 crash, and the family of Barbara Schwarz, who was killed.

The lawsuit claimed defects caused Bookout’s 2005 Camry to accelerate unexpectedly, leading to the crash. Deliberations will resume on Friday to determine punitive damages.

The case, one of hundreds brought by individuals across the country claiming that their Toyota vehicles accelerated without warning, is the first to result in a verdict against the carmaker.

In two previous cases to reach trial, one in California and one in New York, juries found in Toyota’s favor.

Toyota representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Lawyers for the plaintiffs declined to comment, citing a gag order imposed by the judge.

There have been approximately 200 proposed class actions and more than 500 individual cases filed against Toyota since February 2009 over the alleged acceleration issues, according to a recent company regulatory filing.

The Oklahoma lawsuit claimed the Camry accelerated suddenly on September 20, 2007, while Bookout was driving along an interstate highway and that applying both the brake and the emergency brake did nothing to slow it down.

The 2005 Camry model was not included in the acceleration-related recalls.

Toyota has already agreed to pay more than $1 billion to settle class-action claims from owners over economic losses suffered because of the alleged defects. But that deal did not cover individual injury and wrongful death lawsuits.

Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Christopher Cushing