A jury was scheduled to begin deliberations Wednesday in a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by the family of a woman killed in a 2009 crash that occurred amid widespread reports of unintended acceleration involving Toyota vehicles.
The family of 66-year-old Noriko Uno claims the automotive manufacturer should have equipped Uno's 2006 Toyota Camry with a brake override system. The lawsuit claims the system would have prevented Uno from crashing into a tree after she was involved in another collision with a driver at a nearby intersection in Upland, about 35 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.
But attorneys for Toyota claim Uno's fatal crash was a case of driver error and "pedal misapplication." She might have intended to apply the brake, but was actually activating the car's gas pedal, Toyota attorneys claim.
Lawyers for the plaintiff are asking the Los Angeles Superior Court jury to award $20 million in damages. Attorneys finished closing arguments Wednesday morning in the trial, which began in early August.
The 12-member jury is scheduled to begin deliberations Wednesday afternoon. Nine members must agree to reach a verdict.
Family attorney Garo Mardirossian told jurors Wednesday that Toyota "put profits ahead of safety."
"What will get their attention so they don't commit this wrong again in the future?" Mardirossian asked during Wednesday's closing arguments. "What will deter them? You decide."
Uno's crash occurred at a time of nationwide concern caused by reports of unintended acceleration involving Toyota motor vehicles. Similar cases involving Toyota drivers are pending across the country, and the Uno case is considered the first of the "bellwether" cases in state courts.
Such cases are selected to help predict potential outcomes regarding similar claims.
Uno's 2006 Toyota Camry was involved in a collision with another driver at an intersection before it slammed into a tree on a residential street in August 2009. The lawsuit claims Uno was running errands when she swerved to avoid the oncoming vehicle.
Uno family attorneys said the Camry became a "runaway." The 2006 Camry was not equipped with a brake override system, designed to override the accelerator if the gas and brake pedals are pressed at the same time.
Toyota Motor Corp. issued a recall for 2007 Camrys to install the system. Most vehicles are now equipped with some type of system that gives the brake priority if the gas and brakes pedals are operated simultaneously.
Defense attorneys claimed that Uno did not react properly. During opening statements, they displayed a model map (pictured, right) of the tree-lined Upland street and described the events that led up to the fatal crash.
The 2006 Camry model involved in the Uno case was not part of the recalls issued in 2009 and 2010, when the automaker recalled nearly 8 million vehicles because of "sticking" accelerator pedals and a design flaw involving the floor mat that caused it to trap the gas pedal. The plaintiffs' attorneys have not argued that Uno's crash was related to the issues involved in the recalls, but that her foot became stuck and she was not able to depress the brake pedal.
Concerns about unintended acceleration prompted a 10-month study conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation and NASA that found no electronic flaws "capable of producing the large throttle openings required to create dangerous high-speed unintended acceleration incidents."
A federal court judge in Santa Ana approved the $1.6 billion settlement -- an estimate provided by plaintiff's lawyers -- earlier this year to resolve a class-action lawsuit over the acceleration issues.
None of those cases went to trial, but the automaker won a 2011 case filed by a New York doctor who cited unintended acceleration in a crash involving his 2005 Scion TC. That lawsuit was not consolidated into the federal cases.
In 2010, Toyota settled with the family of California Highway Patrol officer, his wife, their teen daughter and brother-in-law -- all were killed when a Lexus ES350 loaned by a San Diego dealership crashed in Santee. CHP investigators said they received a 911 report that the vehicle's accelerator was stuck before the August 2009 crash, which occurred on the same day as the collision involving Uno.
Two months after the Santee crash, Toyota recalled vehicles because of the floor mat entrapment issue.
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