Four of our lawyers were selected as finalists for the 2014 Public Justice Trial Lawyer of the Year award for our work on litigation related to Toyota sudden unintended acceleration. The nominees are Cole Portis, Graham Esdale, and Ben Baker and this writer. Larry Tawwater of The Tawwater Law Firm in Oklahoma City, Okla., and Paul Martin of Martin Jean Jackson in Ponca City, Okla., our co-counsel, were also nominated. We led the charge against Toyota on behalf of the Bookout and Schwarz families. Bookout v. Toyota Motor Corp. was the first suit to go to trial against Toyota tying sudden unintended acceleration to electronic throttle control problems.
When thousands of Toyota Camrys were suddenly accelerating, the company reacted by blaming the incidents on individual parts of the car: first floor mats, then sticky pedals. But, according to Toyota documents and testimony before Congress, these problems only accounted for 16 percent of the sudden unintended acceleration complaints. The problem was actually bigger: the software in the Toyota Camry that controlled the electronic throttle system was poorly designed and did not conform to industry standards. One of those Camrys that suddenly accelerated was Jean Bookout’s. She was injured and her passenger Barbara Schwarz was killed in a September 2007 crash.
The jury’s October 2013 verdict in this landmark acceleration case — awarding $3 million in compensatory damages and finding that the Plaintiffs were entitled to punitive damages — not only led Toyota to settle the case for a confidential amount before the jury could determine the amount of punitive damages, but caused Toyota to try to reach a global settlement of the hundreds and hundreds of cases pending in multidistrict litigation proceedings.
The Public Justice Trial Lawyer of the Year award honors lawyers who take great risk and overcome incredible odds to advance the common law, to make new law, and to win justice for their clients and for the common good of the public. The finalists will be honored and the award presented at the annual Public Justice gala at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Md., on July 27. A full list of the nominees and more information can be found at www.publicjustice.net.
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