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Court Clears Toyota in First Unintended Acceleration Lawsuit

Posted: Apr 04, 2011 11:23 a.m.

A jury ruled Friday that Toyota was not responsible for a crash, in the first trial related to the automaker’s recalls for unintended acceleration. The New York Times reports, “The jury agreed with a lawyer for Toyota, John Randolph Bibb Jr., who argued in his closing statement that the accident was caused by the driver rather than the floor mat. The jury deliberated for less than an hour.”

BusinessWeek reports that the plaintiff in last week’s case, Dr. Amir Sitafalwalla of Long Island, New York, said that his 2005 Scion tC crashed due to “defects in either the electronic throttle system or the floor mats.” But the jury’s forewoman, Regina Desio, said, “We weighed all the evidence and came to the conclusion that there was not a defect with the automobile.”

Accusations of defects that caused sudden unintended acceleration forced Toyota to recall almost eight million vehicles, starting in 2009. Recently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that there were no electronic defects in Toyota cars and SUVs, ruling instead that ill-fitting floor mats and sticky gas pedals were the likely causes of four deaths and 52 other suspected accidents. Toyota is now facing hundreds of lawsuits demanding monetary compensation for accidents as a result of floor mat or accelerator pedal defects. “This is just one case in what will doubtless be a protracted legal process for Toyota, but it's an important victory nonetheless,” writes Autoblog. “It'll be tough for Toyota to win them all, though, since the automaker did recall millions of vehicles for stuck brake pedals and defective floor mats.”

This is good news for shoppers who are considering buying a Toyota. Although the company’s reputation has been tarnished and it has lost significant market share in the wake of the recalls, J.D. Power still gives the automaker an overall reliability rating of four out of five, “Better than most.” Lexus, Toyota’s upmarket brand, does even better, earning an overall dependability rating of five out of five. If you’re in the market for a Toyota, there are many factors that may influence your buying decisions: availability and pricing changes due to the Japanese tsunami and nuclear crisis, rising gas prices, and the slowly-improving economy. But this court case shows that buyers have less to worry about with Toyota’s recall problems than with other factors in the market.

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