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Toyota settles in fatal case

Avoids punitive damages in suit over sudden acceleration

– Toyota Motor Corp. reached a confidential settlement with the victims of a deadly crash in Oklahoma to avoid punitive damages in a case where a jury found that a 2005 Camry’s onboard electronics system was defective and caused it to accelerate suddenly.

A day earlier, the Oklahoma County jury awarded a total of $3 million in monetary damages to the driver of the car, who was injured, and to the family of the passenger, who was killed in the 2007 crash.

It’s the first jury ruling against Toyota in a personal injury case involving unintended acceleration.

Of equal significance was the jury’s determination that a defect in a Toyota vehicle’s software linked to the electronic throttle-control system was to blame.

The Japanese automaker has recalled millions of cars following claims of unintended acceleration but has denied that electronics played any role in the problem.

On Friday, Judge Patricia Parrish announced the parties had reached a deal that eliminated the need for the second stage of the trial over punitive damages.

The terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but it includes a provision that Toyota will not appeal the jury’s decision, said Jere Beasley, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

“You can rest assured they did not want to go to the punitive phase,” Beasley said.

A spokeswoman for Toyota said the company disagrees with the jury’s verdict.

“While we strongly disagree with the verdict, we are satisfied that the parties reached a mutually acceptable agreement to settle this case,” Toyota spokeswoman Carly Schaffner said

On Thursday, the jury awarded $1.5 million in monetary damages to Jean Bookout, 82, the driver of the car who was injured, and $1.5 million to the family of Barbara Schwarz, who died. Bookout’s Camry ran through an intersection near Eufaula, Okla., and slammed into an embankment.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs maintained Toyota knew about the problems but concealed that information from the public.

Toyota denied those claims. Toyota attorney Randolph Bibb Jr. theorized that Bookout mistakenly pumped the gas pedal instead of the brake.