US jury clears Toyota in bellwether case
A Toyota outlet, shown on October 1, 2013, in San Rafael, California, where a jury has cleared the Japanese company of liability for a 2009 fatal accident involving unintended acceleration
Analysts in Tokyo said Friday the ruling upped the Japanese giant's chances in a slew of other lawsuits alleging that defects caused cars to accelerate independently of their drivers.
The safety scare prompted a worldwide recall of millions of cars, the first of a series for Toyota, which had previously traded on the safety and reliability of its cars.
It sent sales in the United States and other markets tumbling, knocking the Japanese automaker off the global number one spot for vehicles shifted.
The jury's pronouncement on Thursday in Los Angeles came after a two month trial over the circumstances surrounding the August 2009 death of Noriko Uno, who died after her 2006 Camry collided with another vehicle and then slammed into a tree.
In the first of a number of expected lawsuits, the 66-year-old's family argued that Toyota failed to include a brake-override system that would have prevented a crash in which her vehicle had been travelling at up to 90 miles (145 kilometres) per hour.
But the LA Superior Court jury ruled in favour of Toyota, whose lawyers said Uno had simply put her foot on the accelerator instead of the brake.
US Toyota spokeswoman Carly Schaffner said the company was "gratified" by the jury's decision that the design of the car "did not contribute to this unfortunate accident."
The verdict affirmed "the same conclusion we reached after more than three years of careful investigation -- that there was nothing wrong with the vehicle at issue in this case.
"As an important bellwether in these consolidated state proceedings, we believe this verdict sets a significant benchmark by helping further confirm that Toyota vehicles are safe with or without brake override," she added.
In Tokyo, analysts said the ruling would be a boost for Toyota, which has already bounced back to the top spot globally and continues to return healthy profits.
"There is no surprise at the ruling, which had largely been expected," said Kozo Nakanishi, an analyst with SMBC Nikko Securities in Tokyo.
"I won't be surprised either if we see similar rulings in similar cases in the future," Nakanishi said.
Koichi Sugimoto, senior auto analyst with BNP Paribas (Japan), said: "The ruling is positive for Toyota, but its impact is limited as the ruling just affirmed expectations."
"If the court ruled against Toyota, it would create a concern, but Toyota has already put aside loss reserves for the cases, while the Toyota brand has already revived."
Shares in Toyota rose 0.94 percent to 6,410 yen as the benchmark Nikkei index jumped 1.48 percent on Friday.
Lawyers for Uno's family had asked for $20 million in damages from Toyota.
Toyota lawyer Vincent Galvin told the jury during the trial: "This is a case of simple driver error -- pedal misapplication. ... This accident was not caused by the vehicle -- it was caused by the driver."
Last December, Toyota said it had agreed to pay about $1.1 billion to settle a class action lawsuit launched by US vehicle owners affected by the series of mass recalls from the automaker.
The company did not accept any blame but agreed to compensate owners who said the value of about 16.3 million vehicles took a hit from dozens of accidents allegedly caused by Toyota vehicles speeding out of control in 2009.
The deal covered the cost of installing a free brake override system in about 2.7 million vehicles. It also provided cash payments to those who sold cars after the recalls or who owned vehicles ineligible for the override system.
MORE REGIONAL NEWS
Latest Photo Galleries on xinmsn
Pakistan's 7,000 so-called 'ghost' schools are part of a growing education crisis in the country where over five million children do not att... More Pakistan's 7,000 so-called 'ghost' schools are part of a growing education crisis in the country where over five million children do not attend primary school, according to the United Nations. Duration: 02:32
Date 39 mins ago, Duration 2:31, Views 0