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Acceleration Case: Jury Finds Toyota Liable

10/24/2013 09:00 PM EDT
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rick merritt
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More to come
rick merritt   10/24/2013 9:32:49 PM
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It will be really interesting to see what investigators found wrong in the electronics if anything. A $3m mistake? Yipes!

junko.yoshida
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Re: More to come
junko.yoshida   10/24/2013 9:39:00 PM
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When sw malfuctions on our iphone, it's inconvenience.

but when sw kills a person? that's a big deal. 

Caleb Kraft
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Re: More to come
Caleb Kraft   10/25/2013 9:12:28 AM
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wow, that is pretty wild. I'm surprised that they can find toyota liable without proof of what actually caused the accident. Or did they have proof but they just aren't publishing it yet? From the article it seems they're still looking for a difinitive answer. 

rich.pell
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Re: More to come
rich.pell   10/25/2013 10:04:24 AM
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I suspect that ultimately the only thing this verdict will prove is that lawyers can always hire "experts" in a particular field to bamboozle juries.  A jury comprised of dispassionate engineers would probably have arrived at a different decision...

Harshhi
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Re: More to come
Harshhi   10/25/2013 10:14:01 AM
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I personally know an Engineer, fresh from college, who was a victim of Camry's unintended acceleration.. (now don't ask me which recent college grad would buy a Camry). He had a tough time explaining this in court.

krisi
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Re: More to come
krisi   10/25/2013 10:39:08 AM
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I agree with @rich.pell...I think people just take advantage of US court system

wilber_xbox
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Re: More to come
wilber_xbox   10/25/2013 12:18:55 PM
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I do not fully understand the history of the jury but sometimes the jury decisions can be highly dependent on the lawyers. Though, in this particular case it does not seem to be the case. But still i believe that qualified judges should take the decisions instead of compassionate people.

junko.yoshida
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Re: More to come
junko.yoshida   10/25/2013 2:42:30 PM
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wow, talking about being cynical, Rich. the expert winess in this case has a lot of credibility. you will find out more in the story that I will be posting shortly.

rich.pell
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Re: More to come
rich.pell   10/25/2013 2:47:46 PM
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Junko, I'm not being cynical - just skeptical.  There's a difference! :)

junko.yoshida
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Re: More to come
junko.yoshida   10/25/2013 11:09:50 AM
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Caleb, there is proof. Lots of it. We just hadn't been able to talk to experts who testified at the court because they were under a gag order.

You will see more detailed analysis later today.

wilber_xbox
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Re: More to come
wilber_xbox   10/25/2013 12:20:05 PM
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I think that this opens a path for more cases to follow. Surely a bad news for Toyota as it might go for out of court settlements for the most cases.

Caleb Kraft
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Re: More to come
Caleb Kraft   10/25/2013 2:00:04 PM
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I'll be watching. I'm quite curious about how this one was decided. Was there a brake override system in place?

Frank Eory
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Re: More to come
Frank Eory   10/25/2013 1:16:25 PM
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It appears that we will all have to wait until after the punitive phase to learn about the evidence that proves software bugs were responsible.

junko.yoshida
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Re: More to come
junko.yoshida   10/25/2013 2:43:30 PM
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They settled as far as the punitive damages are concerned. More on this later. But you won't be disappointed.

El Bee
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Re: More to come
El Bee   10/25/2013 1:21:40 PM
Irrespective of any software failure, any modern car, including a Toyota Camry, can be stopped by applying the brakes.  Even if the car is under full throttle.  There have been numersous tests demonstrating this, and you can try it for yourself on a deserted road.  Brakes are more powerful than the engine and will stop the car every time.  Therefore, some blame has to be placed on the driver for the crash.  An award like this sets a dangerous precedent, although I'm sure Toyota will appeal.

Caleb Kraft
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Re: More to come
Caleb Kraft   10/25/2013 2:01:16 PM
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Not all modern cars have brake override systems.

http://blogs.cars.com/kickingtires/2013/04/ford-lawsuit.html

without them, slamming on the brakes with full throttle won't necessarily bring you to a swift stop.

mixed_signal
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Re: More to come
mixed_signal   10/25/2013 2:23:21 PM
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Agreed, and the transmission should be slammed in to neutral to disengage the engine from the drive train.  Drivers need to know how to handle equipment malfunction.  It's never been required in any licensing test for passenger vehicles that I'm aware of though...

junko.yoshida
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Re: More to come
junko.yoshida   10/25/2013 2:46:08 PM
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respectfully, i disagree.

in fact, Toyota settled in this Oklahoma trial. if Toyota thought so strongly that the facts are on their side, I don't think they would have settled, do you?

Rabbit2
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Re: More to come
Rabbit2   11/2/2013 8:21:14 AM
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This is true to a degree.  The brakes must be applied firmly to bring the vehicle to a complete stop and stall the engine without delay.  If the brakes are "ridden" to merely reduce or control the vehicle speed, the brakes will fairly quickly overheat and fail due to loss of "coefficient of friction" of the braking material.  Nearly all friction material becomes more slippery as it heats up.  The exception is "metallic" linings used for police and racing use.  Metallic linings become less slippery as they heat up.  These linings are not stocked by common auto parts stores, you have to obtain them through special sources.  I have a vehicle equipped with these - they wear like iron - never wear out.  The down side is that you almost have to be an elephant to stop the car when they are cold - particularly in the winter.  Without power assist (which my equipped car does not have), i suspect that a woman would be incapable of stopping the car with cold brakes.  I am its only driver - so that doesn't matter. 


The other point is that a sudden power application - when you are not expecting it - at a critical time, could cause loss of control.  An example would be suddenly decending a steep exit ramp from a freeway on wet pavement.  You saw the exit sign at the last moment - not knowing the area - and exited at a somewhat higher than prudent speed, but still under control.  Then you discover that the exit ramp has a decreacing radius curve (poor design).  If the vehicle suddenly goes to full throttle at this point - i suspect most drivers (including myself) would be hard pressed to maintain control.  Firm application of the brakes on wet pavement could cause the vehicle to continue straight on - into a retaining wall or other obsticle, rather than tracking a curve.  Cheers.

patrick.mannion
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Re: More to come and S/W quote from Junko
patrick.mannion   10/25/2013 1:27:26 PM
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Rich, that's brialliant! Junko, would you be willing to let your visage be so 'used' for anyone who wants that quote on an EETimes T-shirt? It sums it up so well, it's priceless!

Sneezy
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Jury system flawed
Sneezy   10/25/2013 1:34:01 PM
Proving bug exists in firmware does not prove that the bug actually caused the crash! The industry has to rally to scrutinize the so called evidence so that it does not open a door for future litigations on every piece of software the lawyers can link with some litigation!

I was summoned for Jury duty recently for a vehicular manslaughter case recently. After the judge finished questioning I was one of the 18 sitting up there and the DA/defense has their turn to each remove two of us for whatever reason. Among the my peers, there is a guy who has two PhDs from Stanford, me having only one PhD from Purdue, and one old Filipino American lady who said she only understand 20-30% of the conversation. Guess what, the first guy get excused is the double PhD, the second one is me with one PhD. Since we have to leave right away, I don't know if the lady who only understand 20-30% English eventually get to vote on the case, but the fact that the most highly educated people got kicked out of the Jury says something about the Jury system. In order to overwhelm the jury with the "expert" evidences, neither the DA nor the defense likes people with too much analytical skills, like engineers. They never want the jury to analyze the expert testimony, they only want you to take their words.

I must I was quite relieved when I was excused because I just started a new job two weeks before that... But the way it happened left a serious doubt in my mind on how the system works.

junko.yoshida
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Re: Jury system flawed
junko.yoshida   10/25/2013 2:49:14 PM
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in this particularl case, Sneezy, the experts' group was actually able to "demonstrate" that one of the task deaths led to an uninteded acceleration. Stay tuned for the follow-up article. 

rich.pell
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Re: Jury system flawed
rich.pell   10/26/2013 9:16:51 AM
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I've read the follow-up article (Toyota Case: Single Bit Flip That Killed). Did the analysis - based on simulations performed - provide an estimate on the probability that such an event was the cause in this case?  Or more generally, how frequently such task death-related unintended accelerations might be expected to occur overall? Showing that something could happen is of course not the same thing as proving that it actually did...

chanj0
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Features and Liability
chanj0   10/25/2013 1:36:22 PM
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Recently, friend of mine buys a car with driver's assist. It applies brake when the vehicle is getting too fast and too close to the car in the front. He's wondering why this feature hasn't been widely adopted years ago since all the necessary sensors are avaiable years back.

To create something requires imagination. To polish something into a product requires more. In automotive industry, reliability and liability are important. If a feature isn't seen as "risk-free", it will not be installed in a vehicle. In addition, the company has to consider how people are operating the vehicle.

Ultronsonic sensors have been used in luxury vehicle more than 15 years ago for parking assist. I am pretty sure automotive companies are looking into applying the technology to elsewhere, for example, driver's assist. What takes the industry so long to adopt it widely?

What if the vehicle with the great feature still hit the car in the front? Who's liable?

Now, will this ruling create a roadblock to the advance of driverless car?

mixed_signal
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put it in neutral
mixed_signal   10/25/2013 2:21:12 PM
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Drivers that doen't know how to slam the transmission into neutral shouldn't be behind the wheel. Unfortunately there is no mandatory driver training or testing for emergency situation handling.

chanj0
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Re: put it in neutral
chanj0   10/25/2013 5:41:04 PM
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One of my observation is, in US, people doesn't go to driving school to learn how to drive. They typically learn from their parents or, mostly, friends. A parent teaches a teenager kid is already difficult enough. An inexperienced driver teaches a buddy may simply pass down any bad habbit. On the other hands, how many people understand how a car operates given automatic transmission is so popular and convenience. I am pretty sure anyone who knows how to drive a stick shift will know what a neutral means. Slamming a brake in neutral may be found dangerous in most cases. I would not do so unless this is the last resort.

mixed_signal
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Re: put it in neutral
mixed_signal   10/25/2013 5:51:26 PM
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@chanj0-

With an automatic transmission, pushing forward on the gear selector will pop the transmission into neutral.  This works both with gear selectors on the steering column or on the floor. In a panic situation you can just slam the lever forward and it will put the transmission in neutral.  You don't have to push a button or carefully select anything.  This is a saftey feature built into most if not all automatic transmissions.

If the accellerator is stuck, you put the transmission into neutral, disengaging the engine from the driveline. The engine will race, but you will not lose power steering or power brakes so you can at least have a chance of safely getting the car slowed and to the edge of the road.

If the accellerator is truly stuck, what options do you suggest that are better?  As others noted, you can overpower the engine by standing on the brakes. The car will slow down, but not as fast as with the transmission in neutral.

Frank Eory
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Re: put it in neutral
Frank Eory   10/28/2013 12:45:46 PM
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chanj0, driver training is certainly not uniform throughout the U.S., and I don't know the statistics, but many states require such training before a young person can get a driver's license.

One problem may be that except in rare cases, the focus of such training is learning how to drive a vehicle under normal traffic conditions rather than abnormal conditions, and of course learning the traffic laws. There is a driving school in my city (all 3 of my children learned there) which teaches collision avoidance and driving in adverse conditions, like how to recover from a rear wheel skid. They have specially modified vehicles in which the instructor can push a button and force the car into a skid.

Perhaps more driver education should teach collision avoidance and learning how to deal with emergencies and malfunctions (a tire blowout on the highway comes to mind), but I do not believe this is only a U.S. problem.

rich.pell
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Re: More to come
rich.pell   10/25/2013 2:23:46 PM
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""Probably"? What do you base that on?"

Based on the small likelihood that it was actually proved that an electronic defect caused the acceleration.  And that Toyota has successfully defended itself so far in previous trials.  

"I guess it's okay to be baseless as long as you are dispassionate about it."

Proof has yet to be forthcoming even after extensive study of the issue.  It seems unwarranted to infer from a decision by 12 non-technical jurors on this matter that anything has changed in that regard.  



cookiejar
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NASA Found Hardware problem
cookiejar   10/25/2013 2:43:52 PM
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This article mentions that NASA didn't find a software problem, though there appeared to be one.

The fact remains, NASA did in fact find a hardware problem - whiskers growing  out of the solder joints shorting out the potentiometer sensors used in Toyota's throttle position sensor which had caused unintended acceleration in one vehicle. 

See: http://www.edn.com/electronics-blogs/readers--choice-2012--jokes-about-engineers--iphone-5--30-years-of-dsps--more/4368865/Toyota-accelerations-revisited-hanging-by-a-tin-whisker 

Whisker growth is quite a common problem with no-lead solder and Toyota, I feel, is negligent in not using a conformal coating or a system fail-safe mode.

Unintended full throttle application can cause a loss of vehicle control when it happens in crucial traffic and road conditions.  If one applies the brakes in the usual fashion, it may feel as if they are not working.  If brakes are pumped in an effort to stop the vehicle, the vacuum supply for the power brakes will be exhausted because its source,  manifold vacuum is zero with the throttle wide open.  Full brakes with no vacuum boost can take a pedal pressure of about 1,000 pounds, quite attainable with one's leg muscles, but not something the average driver would expect. 

Turning off the ignition runs the risk of locking the steering column when done in a panic, but then would still require very high pedal pressure because of lack of vacuum boost.  Throwing the car into neutral isn't exactly instinctive due to a white knuckle panic grip on the wheel.  Throwing the car into neutral might well over-rev the engine and blow it up, while still not giving you vacuum for your power brakes.

If a sudden wide open throttle occurs on the open road, most of us could cope.  If it happens at just the wrong time, in other words by Murphy's law, it's touch and go.  "There but for the grace of God go I."


I for one would certainly not risk buying a Toyota for myself, let alone buy one for a loved one.

junko.yoshida
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Re: NASA Found Hardware problem
junko.yoshida   10/25/2013 2:57:48 PM
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it turns out that in this particular trial in Oklahoma, the issue of whiskers was never brought up.

cookiejar
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Re: NASA Found Hardware problem
cookiejar   10/25/2013 3:16:47 PM
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I suppose it's because litigation lawyers are technically handicapped.

tiorbinist
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Re: NASA Found Hardware problem
tiorbinist   10/25/2013 3:45:59 PM
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Back in the early '80s I worked for an oil-well-drilling metrology company. We were required to qualify for NASA-level soldering before being allowed to work on the down-hole boards. 

 

Quite a few things were breaking out of obscurity at that time: fretting wear on PC board fingers in the grip of spring contacts and dendrite formation at low voltages among them. One of the things I remember quite clearly was Hewlett-Packard reporting that conformal coating was not a universal solution to dendrite (whisker) formation, because the boards themselves retained enough moisture to allow growth under the coating. 

 

One of the premier approaches to no-lead solder in PCBs has been using the nickel-phospherous electroless gold coating process. At another company, I witnessed a tremendous amount of loss and delay being caused by the PCB company's attention to their electroless bath components. It was described to me as being akin to Chrome Plating baths: if it's a bit low, you heave in a chunk or bucket full and presume that it all dissolves and evenly distributes. In the case of our boards, this approach allowed the phosphorus content to rise above the acceptable amount, which formed a "black pad" coat of the nickel under the gold plate. The black pad syndrome caused leadless solder to fail under light stress. Bad stuff in a high-vibration environment.

 

In both of these cases, I see plenty of reason to question the absolutes of our profession. Is leadless really a viable approach where lives are at stake, as they are in automotives? The Airforce refused (at least had still refused as late as 2005) to adopt the nickel/gold electroless approach, preferring silver solder throughout. Has anyone gone beyond the philosophical and back-of-envelope presumptions that outlawed lead-content solder? Likewise, have we learned nothing from real-world problems and failures that simple fixes for dendrite formation (polycrystalline wax formulations, spread on the surface of the boards worked very well in the 80's... now I can't even find signs of the research!) have simply slipped off the design table, in favor of fail-proven approaches?

cookiejar
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Failsafe design common in cars
cookiejar   10/25/2013 3:14:21 PM
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You would think that a fail-safe system for emergency braking is a brilliant new idea when it comes to electronic systems in cars. 

GM cars going back to at least  the '70s had fail-safe systems for their electronically controlled  vacuum actuated cruise controls.  In addition to having a linkage with a non-tangle ball chain to the throttle, the brake pedal actuated an electric switch to kill the power to the accelerate solenoid and remove power from the decelerate solenoid which released vacuum from the vacuum actuator.  To back that up there was a mechanical vacuum switch that released all the vacuum from the vacuum actuator when the brake pedal was depressed. 

Why did it take multiple deaths before Toyota incorporated a similar time proven fail-safe system to back up its electronics?

DMcCunney
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CEO
The Deep Pocket doctrine
DMcCunney   10/25/2013 7:52:05 PM
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I suspect Toyota was cursing a corporate blue streak when this came before a jury.

An old lawyer friend once expounded on the "Deep Pocket Doctrine of Jury Trials", which reduces to "The side perceived as having the money will pay, regardless of the facts of the case."  The jury is likely not competant to evaluate the facts anyway.  There are unlikely to be engineers on the jury, and the jury will listen to prosecution and defence witnesses, then vote with their gut.  "Gee!  A woman was injured and another was killed because of a Toyota!  Sock 'em!"   That driver error might be at fault is not a conclusion the jury will endorse.  I'm actually surprised at how lightly Toyota got off this round.

There is more to come, and I'll be curious to see followup reports, but I don't expect jury trials to answer the question of whether Toyota's electronic controller was the problem.

 

zeeglen
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Re: The Deep Pocket doctrine
zeeglen   10/26/2013 12:18:25 AM
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@DMcCunney  ">There are unlikely to be engineers on the jury,"

I've heard it rumoured that lawyers do not want engineers on juries.  Apparently engineers are too logical and cannot be swayed by lawerly histrionics.

David Ashton
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Re: The Deep Pocket doctrine
David Ashton   10/26/2013 12:35:58 AM
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@ZeeGlen:  That's as good an argument as I have ever heard for barring lawyers from ever entering politics!

DMcCunney
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CEO
Re: The Deep Pocket doctrine
DMcCunney   10/26/2013 12:24:30 PM
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@David Ashton: That's as good an argument as I have ever heard for barring lawyers from ever entering politics!

Then where would we find politicians? :-)

But since most of what politicians do is pass laws, I think we're stuck with lawyers in the process.  Whether that's a bug or a feature will depend on your viewpoint.


DMcCunney
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CEO
Re: The Deep Pocket doctrine
DMcCunney   10/26/2013 12:15:21 PM
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@zeeglen: AFAIK, lawyers don't want anyone who actually knows anything about the underlying issues on the jury.  Each side can challenge juror selection to reject jurors they think might be biased against their side of the story and it's part of the game that is played before trial.  In addition, jury duty is one of those things most folks try to duck if they have an excuse.

The worst examples are probably medical malpractice trials, and why malpractice insurers do their best to settle out of court, since they'll have to pay assessed damages.

Joe999
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toyota acceleration
Joe999   10/26/2013 10:06:13 AM
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Let's see what Toyota really knows. Do a comparison of the code used in the cars that experienced the unintended acceleration and the code they are now using.

cookiejar
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Throttle problem in new Toyotas
cookiejar   10/26/2013 2:42:00 PM
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I recently took out a new Toyota Sienna van for a test drive at my local Toyota dealer. 

I was taken aback by my inability to maintain a steady speed.  It seemed the throttle control was noisy, in that the vehicle would either surge ahead or hold back.  When I turned on the cruise control the vehicle maintained a smooth steady speed.  The salesperson with me simply denied there was a problem. 

It appears that Toyota still has an accelerator sensor problem - perhaps whiskers caused by lead free solder or noisy pots. 

It's unbelievable that after all this time and publicity, Toyota seems unable to solve the problem.

Rabbit2
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Re: Throttle problem in new Toyotas
Rabbit2   11/2/2013 8:41:09 AM
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IMHO, this is a common problem in the automotive and software areas.  In 1963, my parents purchased a Chevrolet passenger car with a 6 cylinder engine.  It was not "fly by wire", but had an annoying problem.  When you attempted to hold a steady speed, the vehicle would constantly "buck" - surge forward and back.  We had the new vehicle back to the dealer dozens of times.  Always, the "fix" was just a few days away.  Finally a "special part" was ordered to fix the problem.. It was installed, and the problem was just as bad as ever.  This time however, any acceleration produced dense black smoke from the exhaust.  Additionally, the gas mileage went down by about 8 miles a gallon (that's a LOT).  A high school student at the time - i finally was "allowed" to look at the problem.  I found that the "magic part" consisted of a main metering jet in the carburator that was 7 steps rich.  I replaced it with the standard jet, and mileage returned to normal - but the bucking continued.  After a few weeks of experimenting, i found that the bucking was caused by springs in the distributor that were too weak.  As engine speed increases, it is necessary to advance the spark timing to burn the fuel before it is exhausted.  In the 1963 era, this was done with "bob weights" in the distributor body, which were restrained by small springs.  As the speed increased, centripital acceleration forced the weights outward against spring tension, thereby advancing the spark.  The springs installed by the factory were considerably weaker than they should have been.  NOBODY at the factory had ever put one of these distributors on a distributor machine (common equipment in a "speed shop") to verify that the advance curve was appropriate.  The problem persisted until 1970.  So the vast automotive industry could not solve a problem that a high-school junior solved in 3 or 4 weeks in 7 years.  Don't hold your breath for Toyota to come up with a solution.  Cheers.

patrick.mannion
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Staff
Bad month for Toyota: Camry off the CR recommended list
patrick.mannion   10/31/2013 4:17:53 PM
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It's been a bad month for Toyota: Consumer Reports has just dropped the Camry from its recommended list due to a poor showing in the highway safety institute  crash test

http://live.wsj.com/video/consumer-reports-drops-camry-from-recommended-list/C99B752A-877F-436C-9575-65E99C401CC0.html?KEYWORDS=toyota#!C99B752A-877F-436C-9575-65E99C401CC0

 

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