The Toyota Motor Company has settled the first “unintended acceleration” wrongful death suit brought against it out of court.
Toyota agrees to undisclosed terms
U.S. District Judge James Selna, a federal judge in Santa Ana, Calif., approved the settlement. It was to be a “bellwether” case, blazing a path for hundreds of wrongful death and injury claims to follow. The case was set to go to trial in February. The terms of the settlement have not been disclosed.
Van Alfen and Lloyd case
The families of Paul Van Alfen (66) and Charlene Jones Lloyd (38) brought the case against Toyota motors. The pair were killed in Utah on November 5, 2010 when their 2008 Camry took off on its own and slammed into a wall near Wendover, Utah.
Lloyd was the fiance of Van Alfen’s son. Van Alfen’s wife, Shirlene, and his son, Cameron, were also injured in the accident, but escaped with their lives.
The cause of the crash was a stuck gas pedal, according to the Utah Highway Patrol.
The participants in the case were set to meet with Jusdge Selna on January 18 to begin preparations for the civil trial. That meeting was cancelled.
In the past, the automaker claimed the accident was caused by sticky pedals or poorly-fitting after-market floor mats. The plaintiffs, however, argued that Toyota was aware of a problem with its electronic-throttle control systems that it did nothing to rectify.
Attorneys not present at inspection
On November 19, 2010, Toyota, representatives of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Utah Highway Patrol all met to inspect Van Alfen’s wrecked Camry. However, Van Alfen’s lawyers were not made aware of the inspection, and did not attend. That caused Judge Selan to rule last June that jurors at the pending trial should be instructed to use “greater caution” when hearing testimony from some of the automaker’s witnesses.
Whether or not that led to Toyota’s decision to settle remains a matter of speculation. However, Toyota did say it did not intend to handle the pending suits with across-the-board payoffs. In a statement, Toyota said, “We will have a number of other opportunities to defend our product at trial.”
One of the attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case, Donald Slavik, said that the next Toyota sudden acceleration bellwether trial is scheduled for October, 2013.
Record settlement in December
Toyota paid out more than $1 billion last month as a record settlement for hundreds of lawsuits seeking financial compensation for losses due to Toyota’s recalling cars to dealerships like Magic Toyota, Edmonds, WA for servicing unintended acceleration issues. The wrongful death and injury suits are separate from that settlement.