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Toyota begins intensive talks to settle sudden-acceleration cases

Toyota announced that it was moving into a more intensive stage of talks designed to settle the hundreds unintended acceleration cases currently pending against the automaker. The automaker, still the world's largest, has been struggling to disentangle itself from the legal and public relations quagmire that developed after incidents of sudden accelerations began to plague its cars.

According to legal observers, the trigger for this "intensive settlement process" was the loss of a product liability case in Oklahoma on the issue of sudden-acceleration. The jury verdict in that case will cost Toyota $3 million and could bode ill for the 300 or so pending cases in state and federal courts across the nation.

The Oklahoma verdict was described as a "shock." The jury found the electronics were defective in the Camry that killed one woman and left another seriously injured. The company had won other trials involving sudden-acceleration, but the loss in this case appears to have shaken their confidence.

The case pointed to the electronic throttle-control system as defective and the attorney in the case for the plaintiff noted that their evidence "was very, very strong."

Toyota has settled other cases of sudden-acceleration, including a $10 million settlement involving a California Highway patrolman who was killed along with his family. The company has often argued that the sudden-acceleration was due to driver incompetence, an argument that may have been very difficult to sustain had that case gone to trial.

The recalls and defective product lawsuits have cost Toyota as much as $2 billion and severely damaged the automakers reputation for building safe vehicles. While they would like to put the matter behind them, there will be many families who will never be able to forget the damage they suffered.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Toyota looks to settle sudden-acceleration lawsuits," Ken Bensinger, December 12, 2013

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