MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

October 24, 2013

Oklahoma jury: Toyota liable in acceleration crash

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Toyota Motor Corp. is liable for a 2007 crash that left one woman dead and another seriously injured after a Camry suddenly accelerated, an Oklahoma jury decided Thursday.

The jury awarded $1.5 million in damages to Jean Bookout, the driver of the car who was injured in the crash, and $1.5 million to the family of Barbara Schwarz, 70, who died.

It also decided Toyota acted with “reckless disregard” for the rights of others, a determination that sets up a second phase of the trial on punitive damages that is scheduled to begin Friday. After the verdict, District Judge Patricia Parrish ordered attorneys on both sides not to discuss the case publicly until after the punitive stage.

“Per the court’s instructions, we cannot comment on the ruling pending the ongoing deliberations by the jury,” Toyota said in a statement.

Bookout, 82, was driving a 2005 Camry six years ago when it ran through an intersection near Eufaula and slammed into an embankment.

The attorneys for Bookout and Schwarz’s family maintain the vehicle accelerated unexpectedly because of a defect in the car’s electronic throttle-control system. Bookout’s attorney said Toyota knew about the problems but concealed that information from the public.

“We believe Toyota’s conduct from the time the electronic throttle-control system was developed has been shameful,” attorney Cole Portis told jurors. “It’s a big deal, because if it doesn’t work right, people get killed.”

Attorneys for Toyota disputed those claims and blamed the crash on driver error.

“Sometimes people make mistakes while driving their cars,” attorney Randolph Bibb Jr. said.

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