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Toyota settles U.S. acceleration case after $3 million verdict

The Toyota logo is seen at a dealership of Japan's Toyota Motor Corp in Brussels October 10, 2012. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
The Toyota logo is seen at a dealership of Japan's Toyota Motor Corp in Brussels October 10, 2012. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

By Jessica Dye

(Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp <7203.T> reached a deal on Friday to resolve a lawsuit in the United States over unintended acceleration issues, one day after a jury found the Japanese carmaker liable and ordered it to pay $3 million for defects that caused a 2007 fatal crash.

A jury in Oklahoma on Thursday ordered the company to pay $3 million in compensatory damages to Jean Bookout, a driver injured in the 2007 crash, and the family of Barbara Schwarz, who was killed. Jurors were scheduled to resume deliberating on Friday on whether to award punitive damages against Toyota.

Before the jury could reach a decision, Toyota and lawyers for the plaintiffs announced they had reached a confidential settlement to resolve the case.

The lawsuit is one of the first involving acceleration issues to go to trial since similar concerns prompted Toyota to begin in 2009 to recall millions of vehicles. The lawsuit alleged that software defects in the electronic throttle control system of Bookout's 2005 Camry caused it to speed out of control and crash, killing Schwarz.

"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 in a statement.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs, J. Cole Portis, said they were pleased with the jury's decision. "We are fully convinced that Toyota's conduct from the time the electronic throttle control system was designed has been shameful," Portis said in a statement. "We appreciate that the jury had the courage to let Toyota and the public know that Toyota was reckless."

The case is the first loss for Toyota in a string of early trials over acceleration issues, which prompted hundreds of lawsuits across the country in the wake of the recalls. The 2005 Camry at issue in the Oklahoma trial was not included in the recalls.

Two earlier trials in Brooklyn, New York, and California, absolved Toyota of liability for alleged acceleration-related defects.

There have been roughly 200 proposed class actions and more than 500 individual cases filed against Toyota since February 2009 over the alleged acceleration issues, according to a regulatory filing from the company.

Toyota has already agreed to pay a settlement valued at $1.6 billion to resolve claims for economic losses, such as repair costs or lowered resale value, over acceleration issues. That settlement did not cover personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits.

(The story was corrected to make it clear in paragraph 3 that settlement resolves entire case.)

(Reporting by Jessica Dye in New York; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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