$20 Million Toyota Trial Centers on Missing Brake Override

, The Asian Lawyer


From The National Law Journal:

Noriko Uno was on her way to the bank to deposit cash from her family’s sushi restaurant when she was hit by another car. The impact caused her 2006 Camry to accelerate out of control, and for half a mile she struggled to steer the vehicle against oncoming traffic. She ended up slamming into two telephone poles, eventually colliding with a pepper tree. She died on impact.

A brake override safety system (BOSS) could have stopped the car, Garo Mardirossian, Uno’s attorney, told jurors in Los Angeles on Thursday during opening statements in the first bellwether trial against Toyota Motor Corp. over acceleration defects. But Toyota didn’t install such a safety system, he said. And now Uno’s husband, Peter, and son, Jeffery, are asking for $20 million in damage.

“She tried to stop the car on numerous occasions,” said Mardirossian, of Mardiorrosian & Associates in Los Angeles, who presented the version of the case outlined above. “Had the vehicle been equipped with BOSS, it would have come to a stop.”

Toyota’s attorney, Vincent Galvin, managing partner of the San Jose, Calif., office of Bowman and Brooke, steered his argument to the specifics of the accident, which he said was caused by Uno mistakenly hitting the accelerator pedal rather than the brake.

“This accident was not caused by the vehicle,” he said. “It was caused by the driver.”

Mardiorossian presented jurors with a miniature replica of the site of the 2009 accident in Upland, Calif. He also showed them numerous automobile parts and graphic photos of Uno’s lacerated and broken foot, which had become stuck, causing her car to accelerate to nearly 100 miles per hour that day. About a dozen witnesses to the accident are expected to testify, including one who claims Uno’s brake lights came on.

Mardiorossian noted that Toyota had installed a brake override safety system in its vehicles in Europe and Asia at the time, but not in cars sold in the United States like Uno’s 2006 Camry, despite safety assurances to consumers.

“Toyota made a decision to leave out the BOSS from the American vehicles including this 2006 Camry, and it wasn’t until 2007 that they began to put them in the Camry,” Mardirossian said.

But Galvin said brake override wasn’t installed as standard in the Camry until 2011 and, in any case, doesn’t work in all circumstances. Such was the case here, where there is no evidence that Uno hit the brakes, which would have stopped the vehicle, he said. He added that Uno’s foot could not have become lodged as alleged in the lawsuit.

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