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Jury clears Toyota in wrongful death lawsuit

Posted at 10:29 PM, Oct 10, 2013
and last updated 2013-10-10 22:29:12-04

(CNN) — A California jury on Thursday rejected claims that Toyota was responsible for the death of a woman in a 2009 crash that resulted from a sudden and uncontrollable acceleration of one of its cars.

The Los Angeles Superior Court jury returned the verdict after more than four days of deliberations. The case was one of a large number of lawsuits filed in state and federal courts against the automaker over claims of unintended acceleration in its vehicles.

“We are gratified that the jury concluded the design of the 2006 Camry did not contribute to this unfortunate accident, affirming 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,” Toyota said in a statement posted on its website.

Calling the case a “bellwether,” Toyota said it believes the verdict also set a “significant benchmark” that its vehicles are safe with or without a brake override system.

The family of driver Noriko Uno says that she was driving her 2006 Toyota Camry in Upland, California, when it suddenly and unexpectedly accelerated to more than 100 mph despite her pressing the brake pedal. The car eventually struck a telephone pole.

Toyota maintained throughout the trial there was no defect, and that Uno’s car was equipped with a state-of-the-art braking system. The automaker has long maintained that claims about its vehicles’ unintended acceleration are “wholly unsubstantiated.”

The controversy has already proved costly for Toyota. The company announced in December it would take a charge of more than $1 billion to settle claims from drivers who say their vehicles lost value as a result of the alleged acceleration problems.

Toyota said at the time that it settled simply to bring an end to the litigation, and denied wrongdoing.

Toyota was forced to recall more than 8 million vehicles in 2009 and 2010 because of gas-pedal-related issues.

Of that total, 5.8 million were flagged over the potential for their accelerator pedals to become stuck in floor mats. Some 4.5 million were recalled because of the potential for their gas pedals, after wear, to become sticky.

More than 2 million vehicles were subject to both recalls.

Uno’s 2006 Camry was not subject to these recalls, though her family’s suit claimed her model was also defective, and that Toyota failed to include a brake override system to guard against sudden and unexpected acceleration.

CNN’s Karan Olson contributed to this report.