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Court says Florida man can seek up to $180 million from Toyota

We have discussed some of the many problems that Toyota drivers have experienced with defective vehicles. One of these issues has been unintended acceleration.

Toyota recalled over 10 million vehicles for issues that were believed to cause spontaneous acceleration. In 2009, 3.5 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles were recalled for an issue with floor mats that caused accelerator pedals to jam. Toyota has paid some $1.6 billion in settlements to victims of the defect.

Several hundred lawsuits are pending in federal and state courts regarding the vehicles' electronic throttle-control system that consumers have claimed caused this acceleration. Courts have awarded damages to plaintiffs in these cases. Several hundred product liability cases against Toyota have made it to court.

Now a Palm Beach circuit court has ruled that a plaintiff can seek between $135 million and $180 million in compensatory and punitive damages against Toyota for a 2011 accident that left him a quadriplegic.

The young man, a University of Central Florida student, allegedly lost control of his 2001 Camry in Orlando and ran into a building. He suffered a spinal cord injury. According to one of his attorneys, "All he can do is blink his eyes."

The attorney notes that internal correspondence within the company that came to light in another case against Toyota blamed floor mats for the problem "as a guise to cover up the electronic issue." The throttle defect, he says, could have been fixed for a few dollars per vehicle if the company had simply installed a brake override system.

Despite the numerous settlements with Toyota in other acceleration incidents, a spokesperson for the company claims, "there are no real-world scenarios in which Toyota electronics can cause unintended acceleration, and we do not believe a brake override system would have prevented this unfortunate accident."

The Florida suit, which was filed in 2012, has benefited from subsequent actions against Toyota. These include an agreement reached last year with the Department of Justice in which Toyota agreed to pay $1.2 billion for misleading consumers about safety issues related to spontaneous acceleration of its vehicles.

Car manufacturers have vast resources to fight lawsuits involving safety issues with their vehicles. However, no one who has been a victim of a defective vehicle should be intimidated by the size and financial resources of an automaker. There is strength in numbers and they can indeed be brought to justice.

Source: Daily Business Review, "Palm Beach Judge Allows Punitives Against Toyota in Paralyzing Crash" Noreen Marcus, Jan. 15, 2015

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