Liability in Toyota Unintended Acceleration Case Fails on Exclusive Control

Toyota and other car makers have come under fire in recent years for flawed design, defective manufacturing and negligent recall procedures that put millions on the road at risk. drive7

However, as a recent case out of Connecticut revealed, liability is not always clear-cut and those pursuing litigation against an auto manufacturer for product liability leading to a traffic accident can be an uphill battle.

The case of Foster v. Foster v. Toyota Motor Sales, and it pits wife against husband who in turn seeks accountability from the auto manufacturer. Of course, we should be clear here that in cases like this, where spouses, relatives or friends pursue action against one another, the goal is generally not to collect from that individual but rather from the auto insurance company. This situation was complicated by the fact that a third-party – the auto manufacturer – was involved.

And let’s also preface this by saying that this unintended acceleration issue with Toyota is by no means isolated. In fact, the car manufacturer in 2014 agreed to pay $1.2 billion for hiding the deadly unintended acceleration issue from 4.2 million consumers. That settlement was reached in a deferred prosecution agreement in which the company admitted it mislead consumers by concealing and making deceptive statements regarding the two safety issues. As the FBI assistant director said at the time, the company “put sales over  safety and profit over principle.” 

In the Forester case, plaintiff was driving her husband’s vehicle when, she alleges, the vehicle unexpectedly accelerated into a parked vehicle. Her vehicle then spun around and rolled over. She was seriously injured and sued her husband for negligence. She alleged he failed in responding to the recall issued by Toyota, which (eventually) urged owners to bring their cars in for repair.

The husband in turn filed a third-party complaint, in which he alleged the company was responsible for the auto accident and demanding indeminification.

However, in terms of the third-party indemnification demand, Connecticut Superior Court Judge Kari Dooley struck the complaint, finding the husband had not properly stated his claim.

This demand for indemnification arises when a defendant asserts a third party is responsible for an accident and therefore owes a duty to indemnify against losses. In order to succeed, a defendant has to show the other party was in exclusive control of the situation and that the third party’s acts or omissions of negligence on their own were the direct cause of plaintiff’s injury.

Here, the judge found the husband hadn’t shown that the car maker’s active negligence – over the husband’s passive negligence – was the immediate, direct cause of the accident and wife’s injuries. What the husband has to show is that the car maker was in control of the situation – and the husband was not.

Dooley has extended the husband another chance to plead his claims against the car manufacturer after finding the automaker had not successfully shown this area of law was untested by Connecticut courts. Defendant had argued the state’s product liability law was the only remedy for this kind of complaint, but the judge found that law doesn’t cover common law indemnification.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

For Now, Toyota Avoids Liability in Conn. Unexpected Acceleration Accident, June 9, 2016, By Amaris Elliott-Engle, Law.com

More Blog Entries:

NHTSA: Crash Test Dummies to Take a Back Seat, June 9, 2016, Charlotte Defective Vehicle Lawyer Blog

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