In legal parlance, a bellwether case is a court decision that could be
used to inform other, similar court decisions in the future. It is a common
term used in cases where a single act of possible negligence could have
resulted in the injury or death for many different parties.
This month, Toyota won a bellwether case against a plaintiff who alleged
that their 2006 Toyota Camry was a
dangerous product. The lawsuit was a product of the unintended acceleration scandal that
gripped the country in 2009-2010, in which several Toyota vehicles were
accused of accelerating out of control, leading to serious injuries among
drivers and passengers.
The case revolved around an incident in 2009, in which a California woman
was killed after she was apparently unable to stop her vehicle. Her car
had been struck by a driver who drove through a stop sign; following this
collision, her car continued forward, eventually striking a tree.
The woman's family alleged that Toyota was negligent in failing to
include a brake override system in the Camry, which they say would have
prevented this fatal accident. Toyota said that their car was not unsafe
in any way and alleged that the woman simply didn't apply the brakes
after the initial collision with the other driver.
Ultimately, the jury ruled in favor of Toyota, concluding that the car
was not responsible for the accident. Instead, 100 percent of the liability
was placed upon the driver who struck the Camry seconds before it accelerated
into the tree. Jurors stated that that driver should be forced to pay
$10 million in to the woman's family as restitution for the pain and
suffering they have endured as a result of the fatal accident.
The case is a major victory for Toyota, who is still facing dozens of similar
cases across the country. Given the results of this case, their legal
troubles may be somewhat lighter in the future, though all cases were
born of slightly different circumstances and should be examined carefully
and individually. Next month, another similar unintended acceleration
case begins in Santa Ana, California.
Source: Automotive News, "Calif. jury clears Toyota in fatal Camry crash" No Author Given, Oct. 14, 2013