Barr, an embedded systems expert, is scheduled to appear in the St. John's trial. He told us an 800-page report, in redacted form, was filed in the US District Court in Santa Ana in St. John v. Toyota on April 12, 2013. An unredacted version exists "only in the code room and in a few lawyers' hands."
Now that the St. John's case won't go to trial until next year, the extra time might give Toyota a chance to weigh its options. However, it has shown no inclination to settle. Even after settling the Van Alfen case, the carmaker maintained: "While Toyota may decide from time to time to settle select cases, we will have a number of other opportunities to defend our product at trial in multidistrict litigation and other legal venues."
It's also important to note that, in every case Toyota won after it started recalling the vehicles, plaintiffs' attorneys did not build their case on a flaw in the electronic throttle system. When asked why plaintiffs' lawyers in those cases never used the software defects as their argument, Tobias acknowledged that a software flaw is often difficult to prove. Besides, he said, Toyota always strongly denied such a problem in the electronic throttle system.
Another big hurdle for the lawyers was the early 2011 closure of a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NTHSA) probe of Toyota models after a 10-month NASA investigation found no electronic causes of unintended acceleration. The lawyers viewed such evidence as "too hard to overcome," Tobias said.
In Bookout v. Toyota, plaintiffs' attorneys relied on the expert testimony of Barr, who said NASA itself did not rule out the possibility of a software defect having caused unintended acceleration. He and other experts, picking up where NASA left off, went ahead with an 18-month investigation of Toyota's software.
Other cases scheduled to go to trial in the next year include: Alberto v. Toyota (to be tried in February in Flint, Mich.), Dushane v. Toyota (April in Los Angeles), and Chaudhary v. Toyota (October in Los Angeles).
The Chaudhary case involves a 2009 Toyota Camry that experienced unintended acceleration for more than 45 seconds on March 13, 2013. Mussarat Chaudhary ended up trapped in her vehicle in the Sacramento River, despite her attempts to brake and slow down the vehicle. She could not escape the rising river and perished before help could arrive.
Timeline for Toyota unintended acceleration cases
December 2010: John Saylor v. Toyota Motor Corp. (No. 37-2010-00086718) was filed in the California Superior Court for San Diego County.
Toyota agreed to pay $10 million in Decemeber 2010 to settle a lawsuit tied to a fatal August 2009 accident near San Diego that killed four members of the same family.
Mark Saylor, a California Highway Patrol officer; his wife, Cleofe Lastrella; their 13-year-old daughter, Mahala; and a brother-in-law, Chris Lastrella, were traveling in a 2009 Lexus ES, which the dealership lent them while their vehicle underwent repairs. According to the complaint, the Lexus accelerated on its own and reached speeds of more than 100 miles an hour when it came to the end of a freeway and broke through a fence. In a 911 call made from the car before the crash, Lastrella said the car's accelerator was stuck.
After the settlement, Toyota said a December 2009 San Diego County Sheriff's Department report "determined that the cause was an incompatible all-weather floor mat from a Lexus SUV model that was installed incorrectly in the ES 350 sedan at the dealership." Toyota also repeatedly said it found no evidence that electronic malfunctions led to unintended acceleration.
The accident drew national attention and led to massive recalls by Toyota, congressional hearings, and more than $65 million in fines for federal safety code violations.
November 2009: Toyota initiated the first recall after reports that several vehicles experienced unintended acceleration. The first recall was to correct a possible incursion of an incorrect or out-of-place front driver's side floor mat into the foot pedal well, which can cause pedal entrapment.
January 2010: Toyota issued a second recall after some crashes were shown not to have been caused by floor mat incursion. It identified the defect as a possible mechanical sticking of the accelerator pedal.
February 2010: Following the floor mat and accelerator pedal recalls, Toyota issued a separate recall for a glitch in the Prius anti-lock brake software.