In Tampa, wrongful death lawsuits can be based on a variety of factual situations. Many wrongful death cases are brought in the form of a products liability claim, alleging the dangerously defective design or manufacture of a product or the failure to warn of non-obvious dangers with using the product.
Many Tampa-area readers are familiar with the products liability wrongful death lawsuits brought against Toyota over the last several years, after many Toyota drivers and passengers suffered personal injury or death in Toyota vehicles with faulty acceleration systems. We previously wrote about a settlement of economic loss claims made by uninjured Toyota owners whose only injury was the lost value of their vehicles when Toyota was forced to recall those with the defective accelerator systems. However, those settlements did not include a resolution of personal injury and wrongful death claims that had been made against Toyota.
According to WFLA Tampa, wrongful death cases filed over the 2010 deaths of two people in Utah have now been settled by Toyota. These two wrongful deaths are just the tip of the iceberg, as Toyota must still address numerous remaining wrongful death and personal injury claims that resulted from what plaintiffs called defectively-designed acceleration systems. Toyota, on its part, has always maintained that the acceleration issues that caused so many catastrophic motor vehicle accidents (and even one known Florida pedestrian death) were the mere result of sticking accelerators, misplaced floor mats, and errors made by drivers. The company continues to deny that these auto accidents resulted from design defects.
There is no doubt that Toyota’s public reputation took a strong hit as the result of the acceleration problems, which spanned different Toyota models manufactured in different years. Jury verdicts for compensatory damages and possible punitive damages for the many hurt in these horrible car wrecks could be significant, even to a manufacturing giant. Another reason for Toyota to offer voluntary compensation for wrongful death claims is to prevent a jury verdict against Toyota that might further damage its reputation. In addition, each settlement can contain what is called a “confidentiality agreement,” preventing the plaintiffs from further public discussion of the case.
So why not settle all of the cases at once? Toyota’s piecemeal approach to settling these wrongful death claims reflects a deeper legal strategy. Toyota seems to be testing the possibility of settling those cases it is most likely to lose and reserving for trial those that it is most likely to win. A jury verdict in Toyota’s favor on the issue of acceleration would lend additional strength to its public image and help restore consumer confidence in its product.