Unfortunate Chapter Continues: Toyota Bounced for $11 Million in UA Case

Toyota’s runaway success in blaming drivers for its defective vehicles, hit an $11 million pothole yesterday, after a Minnesota federal jury found that the automaker was 60 percent responsible for an Unintended Acceleration (UA) crash that killed three and severely injured two.

Attorney Robert C. Hilliard, who represented plaintiffs Koua Fong Lee, the driver, and the family in the vehicle that was struck, says it’s the first jury verdict against Toyota in a UA case involving a mechanical defect. The automaker made no offer to settle the case prior to the January trial.

Toyota: A Series of Unfortunate Chapters

On a sunny June day, Kathy Ruginis, of Bristol, RI, had a low-speed Unintended Acceleration event in a 2010 Corolla, as she attempted to park. The car had already been remedied under the floor mat entrapment and sticky accelerator recalls, and presumably was as safe as a babe in its mother’s arms. Ruginis was making a slow, right hand turn to ease into the parking space; her foot was on the brake, when the vehicle surged forward and crashed into an unoccupied parked Jeep in front of it. Fortunately, only the Toyota and the Jeep were injured.

Kathy’s husband Bob, an electrical engineer with 35 years’ experience in embedded software and hardware design, wanted an explanation. And Toyota had one. After a June 24 physical inspection, a test drive and a download of the Corolla’s Event Data Recorder (which Toyota requested be performed), Toyota sent Bob and Kathy a letter, which basically said: we jiggled your pedal, we wiggled your floor mat, and we drove your vehicle for an exhaustive 16 miles. There’s nothing wrong with your car. So sorry. Goodbye.

Toyota’s Gone Fishin’

In December 2009, as Toyota faced increasing scrutiny from Congress and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the wake of the horrific unintended acceleration crash in that killed California Highway Patrolman Mark Saylor, his wife, daughter and brother-in-law, the automaker’s image-makers were prepared to go on the offensive. According to an April 2013 article in Corporate Counsel, a Toyota public relations staffer named Masami Doi wrote this email: