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Jury Finds Toyota Not Liable in Acceleration Death Case

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LOS ANGELES, Calif (CNS / KTTV) - A downtown Los Angeles jury has cleared Toyota of any wrongdoing in a lawsuit alleging unintended acceleration led to the death of an Upland woman whose Camry slammed into a tree in 2009.

The verdict was a major victory for the automaker, which is still the target of dozens of other lawsuits across the country claiming that defects in Toyota vehicles led to instances of unintended acceleration. The downtown Los Angeles case was the first lawsuit in a series of consolidated cases to go to trial, and the proceedings were being closely watched as a bellwether for other pending suits.

Carly Schaffner, business communications manager for Toyota Motor Sales USA, said the company was "gratified" by the jury's decision that the design of the car "did not contribute to this unfortunate accident."

Schaffner said the verdict affirmed "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."

"As an important bellwether in these consolidated state proceedings, we believe this verdict sets a significant benchmark by helping further confirm that Toyota vehicles are safe with or without brake override," Schaffner said.

Attorneys for the family of Noriko Uno contended during the trial that Toyota failed to include a brake-override system on the 2006 Camry that would have prevented the crash that killed the 66-year-old woman.

Toyota's attorneys called the crash a "simple case" of driver error and "pedal misapplication." They claimed Uno might have intended to step on the brake, but was actually activating the gas pedal.

Lawyers for Uno's family had asked the Los Angeles Superior Court jury to award $20 million in damages.

While the jury cleared Toyota of any liability, it did award Uno's family $10 million in damages -- assessed against Olga Belo, who ran a stop sign in a Lexus and struck Uno's Camry on Aug. 28, 2009, causing it to swerve out of control and hit speeds of 80 to 90 mph, eventually slamming into a tree in Upland.

Toyota lawyer Vincent Galvin told jurors during the trial that not having an override system in the vehicle "doesn't make it defective -- it just makes it old."

He argued during the two-month trial that the computerized "logic" system added in 2011 to all Camrys sold in the U.S. "is not a remedy for pedal misapplication."

Galvin said Uno was hypoglycemic, distracted by the first crash and short in stature -- all factors that the attorney said have been shown to potentially cause misuse of the brake and gas pedals.

"This is not a stuck-pedal case," Galvin told the jury. "This is a case of simple driver error -- pedal misapplication. ... This accident was not caused by the vehicle -- it was caused by the driver."

But Garo Mardirossian, attorney for Uno's family, told jurors Uno was in no way impaired at the time of the crash.

"Her health was not an issue," the attorney said. "Her health had nothing to do with her driving."

Earlier this year, Toyota reached a $1.6 billion settlement of a class-action federal lawsuit involving claims of unintended acceleration. Those claims prompted the automaker to recall more than 10 million vehicles in 2009 and 2010.

Mardirossian contended that Toyota officials had issued a recall for 2007 Camrys to install the brake-override system but did nothing about the 2006 models, despite large numbers of issues with unintended acceleration.

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