In 2007, Jean Bookout was at the wheel of her 2005 Camry with her friend Barbara Schwartz. The friends exited an Oklahoma highway before Ms. Bookout discovered she could not stop her car. The vehicle sped through an intersection and hit an embankment, killing 70-year-old Ms. Schwartz and seriously injuring now 82-year-old Ms. Bookout.
For years, Toyota Motor Company has defended itself against allegations of sudden acceleration, arguing, as it did in this case, that victims are mistakenly pumping the gas instead of the brake. An Oklahoma jury found the company had little credibility in the matter and found it acted with reckless disregard.
Awarding Ms. Bookout $1.5 million and the family of Ms. Schwartz $1.5 million, the jury was set to begin deliberations on a punitive damage award when Toyota settled the matter with each woman for the amount awarded by the jury. The settlement allows Toyota to avoid financial exposure and a precedent-setting punitive damage award, and provides closure to the plaintiffs without fighting further appeals.
In recent years, Toyota has taken several actions to rehabilitate its image after its trouble with sudden acceleration and gas pedal entrapment issues. Those actions include:
- In December 2012, Toyota agreed to pay more than $1 billion to settle a class action lawsuit brought by owners of Toyota vehicles who suffered economic loss as a result of negative publicity about potential defects in Toyota vehicles.
- Also in December, Toyota signed an agreement with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to pay a record civil penalty of $17.35 million for its failure to provide notice of potential defects in its vehicles.
The Bookout settlement may breathe new life into claims of injury caused by sudden acceleration of Toyota vehicles.