In previous issues, I have made reference to our work on behalf of the Bookout and Schwarz families in their fight for justice against Toyota in the sudden unintended acceleration lawsuit. Our trial team, along with Larry Tawwater of The Tawwater Law Firm in Oklahoma City, Okla., and Paul Martin of Martin Jean Jackson in Ponca City, Okla., were selected as finalists for the 2014 Public Justice Trial Lawyer of the Year award. The team from Beasley Allen included Cole Portis, Graham Esdale, Ben Baker and this writer. Together, we led the charge against Toyota in Bookout v. Toyota Motor Corp., the first suit to go to trial against Toyota tying sudden unintended acceleration to electronic throttle control problems. This case is recognized as the game-changer in this litigation. It was the one case that brought about a successful conclusion to the Toyota litigation.
When thousands of Toyota Camrys were suddenly and unexpectedly accelerating, the company reacted by blaming the incidents on individual parts of the car: first floor mats, then so-called 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 owned by Jean Bookout. Mrs. Bookout was injured and her passenger Barbara Schwarz 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, because of Toyota being found guilty of “reckless conduct,” 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.
According to Public Justice, the 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 were honored and the award presented at the annual Public Justice gala in Baltimore, Md., on July 27. A full list of the nominees and more information can be found at www.publicjustice.net. I hope you will take a few minutes to look over the Public Justice website and also visit our YouTube channel to view a very good video (2014 Trial Lawyer of the Year Finalist – Bookout v. Toyota) put together by Dave Tavani and the folks at Rich Tolsma Productions.
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