On August 28, 2009, 66-year-old Los Angeles resident and sushi restaurant owner Noriko Uno was killed in a car crash. She was running errands when her Toyota Camry 2006 allegedly accelerated suddenly at 100 mph. Who is at fault for this accident?
Yasuharu Uno, Noriko's husband, and his son Jeffrey claim Toyota is responsible for the accident. Uno claims that Toyota did not install a brake override system in the 2006 Camry that Noriko was driving. The family lawyer, Garo Mardirossian, said in a court filing that Noriko’s fifth-generation vehicle had the most reported unintended-acceleration claims, which even rose to 400% from the previous generation. Garo said that both Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) knew this, yet did nothing to solve it.
NHSTA instead closed investigations as they could not gather enough information to reach a conclusion. The car company, meanwhile, recalled and added brake override to the 2007 Toyota Camry. Noriko's Camry was left without the safety feature.
Other accident cases
A similar car accident which took place the same day as Uno’s and was the turning point of this recall. The Lexus that an off-duty California Highway Patrol officer was driving crashed, which killed him and three others. Garo told Reuters that Toyota’s recall should have been extended to cover models on years 2002 to 2006, which were the first ones to have drive-by-wire throttles. The Uno family is seeking $20 million in damages.
According to Toyota’s lawyers, a brake override system wouldn’t have saved Uno’s life. They maintain that the issue was not on the brake installed on the vehicle as it was driver error that caused the fatal accident. They claim there is no substantial evidence that shows Uno was trying to brake.
Toyota stated in their memorandum to the court that around 14 witnessed observed Uno as she went to the wrong direction. Thirteen of these individuals testified they never saw brake lights on the Camry. The only person who claimed she saw the brake lights said that it was on for a second, then off the next, then on again. The carmaker’s lawyers explain that unintended acceleration is often not caused by a “pedal error.” They said that there was no defect in Uno’s Camry and blamed floor mats that trapped the gas pedal or faulty accelerators that got stuck.
As a Kentucky Accident Attorney, I am interested how this case will turn out. The Uno trial is referred to as the bellwether. This means potential outcomes for similar lawsuits in other states may be influenced by how this particular case ends up.